The Chutzpah of Facebook’s Jewdar

I covered this on the blog yesterday, and there’s more coverage from AdFreak (via David Griner) and WebMetricsGuru (Marshall Sponder’s blog). Here’s today’s column on it in MediaPost in case you can’t get enough of Facebook’s run-in with the Catskills.

The Chutzpah of Facebook’s ‘Jewdar’

I swore I wasn’t going to write about Facebook again this week. Then
a Facebook ad started up with the name-calling again. It wasn’t a bad
name, or inaccurate, but such ads do have a knack for getting noticed.
From the responses to last week’s column,
people really don’t like getting called fat on Facebook – or bald,
lazy, or desperately single. Amanda P. commented on the post, “As a 22
year old female, I get really tired of seeing the engagement, ‘tired of
being fat at 22,’ handbag and shoe advertisements.”

What makes Facebook so interesting is that while it can be used for
large-scale campaigns to target millions of users, it’s also simple for
any advertiser to create a targeted campaign for a few dollars. That
can lead to some surprises, like what I encountered this week.

The ad’s subject called out, “Hey Jew.” I was caught off-guard by
the supposition from this marketer, which was hawking “adventure travel
that’s worth the schlep!” For self-service Facebook ads, most commonly
used by smaller advertisers, you can’t target by religion (more
targeting options are available when spending enough for full service),
but you can include keywords that relate to it, as expressed by what
users mention in their interests on their profiles. It’s a mixed bag of
keyword targeting options for religion. You can target people who
mention “Islam” but not “Muslim,” “Hindi” but not “Hindu,” and “Jesus”
and “Buddha” but not “Muhammad.” A swath of keywords incorporating
Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism nets about 560,000 U.S.
users, a small fraction of Facebook’s audience.

Yet I don’t mention anything about Judaism on my profile. There’s no
sign of the words “Jew,” “Jewish,” or “Judaism” (which reach a combined
67,000 users) or even “Israel” (which would up the total to 139,000).
My profile shares a ton of information, though I generally keep
religion and politics off it. My name and picture are prominent; it’s
not like I’m trying to hide my identity to get into a country club. But
how did Facebook, or at least one marketer on Facebook, finger me? What
kind of Jewdar was at work?

I started exploring the mystery on Twitter and then on my blog,
which includes a snapshot of the ad. I wrote, “Some plausible theories
are that the marketer used some combination of targeting around my city
(New York), alma mater (Binghamton) and entertainment interests (’The
Daily Show,’ ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘Everything Is Illuminated’).” I misspoke, as
you can’t target by alma mater with self-service. Targeting my location
and those combined interests would net 46,000 people — though most of
course wouldn’t be Jewish.

I then thought out of the lox, I mean box, a little, positing
theories about Jewhavioral targeting algorithms. Adam Broitman chimed
in, “Definitely Jewhavioral… It actually uses macaroons instead of
typical third party cookies.” Others wondered if Facebook allowed
targeting by surname. Alex Sicre added, “I am listed as an Agnostic and
have never seen any ‘Hey Non-believer’ ads.” My wife, a bit jealous
that I was being profiled, told me, “I never got the ‘Hey Jew.’ Is it
because I’m from Dallas?” She has a point — my grandmother doesn’t
believe Cara’s Jewish, so why should Facebook?

The real answer behind all this is somewhat anti-climactic. It’s
true that the advertiser, Katan Adventures, was using self-service ads
to reach “Jews and friends of the Jew,” as it notes on its site. There
was also some basic targeting, though the net was cast wider than I
expected.

A Katan representative emailed me, “I assume you are from NY? In
order to reach Jews who haven’t listed their religion on Facebook
(which, by the way, is the vast majority) we run ads in metro areas
with large Jewish populations and try to grab their attention with
ridiculous lines such as ‘Hey Jew,’ but we obviously get a lot of
wasted clicks with this strategy as well. And some angry emails.
Seinfeld fans is a good idea though. And maybe Zabar’s fans, but I’m
sure that is a small group.”

Most marketers aren’t going to follow Katan’s lead verbatim, though
the traditional ad model is to knowingly waste the vast majority of
impressions while trying to reach a very specific target. Katan’s
experience also offers a few reminders when advertising on Facebook:

1) Self-service targeting options are limited to begin with. You
can’t target by religion, or surname, or Upper West Side market
preference.
2) Much of your target audience may be incognito. Sure,
I’m a stereotype, a bookish New Yorker who likes Seinfeld, Jon Stewart,
and Woody Allen (”Annie Hall” is listed as a favorite film), but I
don’t use the J-word. You’re going to have to either live with that or
make some sweeping assumptions, as Katan did.
3) Facebook may not be
the most efficient marketing channel. It’s one thing to know your
audience is on Facebook. It’s another to decide that’s where it’s best
to reach them.

The most amazing thing about Facebook is that anyone with $5 can
launch a campaign like this, democratizing media in a way that follows
Google’s footsteps in empowering the long tail of advertisers. Clearly,
sometimes that power goes to their heads.

Now, someone just needs to figure out how to target Pastafarians.

3 thoughts on “The Chutzpah of Facebook’s Jewdar

  1. Don’t contextual ads enable a different sort of self-service targeting? The marketer assumes some things about you if you’re reading something, visiting somewhere or using an app?

  2. The funniest thing I read all morning! Not in least part because given the HUGE amount of information Facebook has about individuals and their connections, you still get Marketers using it like TV. As the price of the impression is driven down, the potential for spammability (that’s not a word btw) goes up. God save us all! Facebook is like the Internet all over again.

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