Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sometimes, ads work

The graphics with this post are screenshots of sponsored ads I saw on Facebook (click to enlarge). I seldom pay attention to such ads, and sometimes even tell Facebook I don’t want to see a particular ad. Very rarely, I’ll actually click-through. So, I almost missed this ad entirely—but then I actually looked.

An ad for Hawaiian Airlines is one I’d normally skip over: I’m not planning any overseas travel any time soon, so I certainly wasn’t thinking about any airlines. Then, almost by chance, I actually looked at the photo, and thought to myself, “Hm, those guys look like they’re feeling rather friendly toward each other…” But I’m used to advertisers creating a scene that might seem gay, only to show later that it isn’t. At this point I was caught by the ad.

I clicked on the arrow to see what the next picture was—those hands barely visible in the original ad seemed to be promising it was a couple they were showing, not just “very good friends” as advertisers do so often. The second photo showed that, while the pictured couple would probably be “very good friends”, they were meant to depict something far more than that: An actual gay couple.

I smiled. Then, with some reluctance, I looked at the comments and—at that time, at least—every single one was positive and gay-affirming. That’s unusual for anything on Facebook that treats gay people as equals, and it was nice. And yet, it was a targeted ad.

Ads on Facebook are displayed according to algorithms that select ads based on everything users tell Facebook about themselves: Age, gender, sexual orientation, location, etc., and also everything they’ve done while using Facebook in any way, from their “Likes”, to the groups the user subscribes to, etc., as well as other things, like what sites outside of Facebook the users log into using Facebook.

While some people may think that’s creepy, it’s also far more likely to make Facebook display ads that are actually relevant to the user. I can’t count the number of times I used to see ads on websites promising to help me with the lottery for a US Green Card, because the ads only noted that I was someone in Auckland accessing a site in the USA. Facebook’s ads are far more relevant to me most of the time—though, naturally, even they get it wrong sometimes.

So, the fact that I was shown a gay-friendly ad isn’t the least bit surprising. However, even now, it surprises me when a mainstream business makes a gay-friendly ad because they’re still pretty rare—rare enough, in fact, that it prompted this post.

I hope that eventually this sort of appropriate advertising will become so common that there’s no reason to comment on it. But I still remember when I first started seeing black people in ads in mass market publications in the USA promoting products from major companies, and that was when I was a kid. So, we still have a long way to go before we’ll see common use of LGBT people and couples in such ads, and not have advertisers expect LGBT customers to just read ourselves into supposedly “universal” ads that never actually are, just as black people had to do when I was a kid.

Despite the ad catching my attention, I didn’t click through from the ad—I just looked at the photos on the ad itself. That’s still an “action”, just not the one advertisers consider ideal. Even so, the first goal of advertising is to cut through the noise and get noticed, and Hawaiian Airlines managed that. Had I been planning a trip, I may have actually clicked through.

While I wasn’t actually a potential customer at the time, the ad used nice photos in a way that got my attention and spoke directly to me as a potential customer. Props to Hawaiian Airlines for reaching out for my business, and not expecting me to read myself into their ads.

Actually, come to think of it, I would like to visit Hawaii at some point…

No comments: