Representatives from movie studio Universal spoke at South by Southwest (SXSW) this weekend about how the company used customized Facebook ads based on users’ race to advertise the film “Straight Outa Compton” about the rap group N.W.A.
Doug Neil, Universal’s executive vice president of marketing, noted that the “general population” (non-ethnic people) saw a trailer for the film on Facebook that mostly told the story of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, two individuals from the rap group N.W.A that are familiar to most people. However, African-American users saw a trailer that assumed the viewer already knew about N.W.A. Meanwhile, the Hispanic audience saw a trailer that featured Spanish quotes flashing onscreen.
This kind of highly-targeted advertising definitely comes off as a bit creepy, but it’s undeniably effective; Neil said that Universal was able to reach 22 million people with its targeted ads, and the movie went on to become a hit.
“Using Facebook’s affinity segments, brands can target ads on Facebook to people based on how they might respond to content,” Facebook said. “Affinity segments are created in a privacy-safe way, using signals such as language used, likes and group membership on the platform.”
However, lost in all the discussion about the ad campaign’s success is a simple question: is it right for Facebook to use its knowledge of people’s ethnicity to advertise to them?