Facebook sponsored posts: A consumer perspective

Is anyone else a little disturbed at the creepy accuracy of recent “sponsored posts” showing up in their Facebook feed?

While I’m a fan of Growers Cider, having it land on my timeline at 4:30pm at the end of the week seems a tad planned. Likewise ads for Clearly Contacts and reading glasses, as I search for mine to read the screen. And don’t get me started on the diet stuff – they’ve got the wrong girl, but the right demographic I suppose! While I’m a marketer by profession, I am also a Mom, daughter, wife, and friend, so I was interested to view feedback through the lens of consumers, my friends and colleagues, perhaps not as tainted by the back room metrics of the practice as I was.

The responses I received back ranged from hilarious to insightful. One friend figured Cutie Pie Wax Bar might just have a web cam in her shower. We’ll pause while you process that one. Another mused, as a grandma, about receiving ads to “loose baby fat”, but chalked it up to having posted her grandchild’s baby photos online. One found it curious to be receiving Crest Whitestrips ads shortly after posting plans of her engagement. Perhaps her teeth needed to match her dress?  But the best was from a friend who worked in the fashion and design industry in London for over 20 years, and who has a closet to die for, which chalked the ads she was receiving up to pure spam. The visual of her patronizing the three sponsored links she had received that morning was not a pretty one: sporting tummy support leggings while shopping for Ziploc bags at Target. There were insightful comments about how what you and your friends “like” on Facebook affects what you see. And there was considerable uptake on the advice shared to install adblocker in your browser.

Amusement and spirited debate aside, what emerged can be summarized into two themes:

1.     Many viewed their Facebook presence as an extension of their own persona, their brand, and a private venue to connect with others they care about. Here the infringement of advertising without permission was seen at best as forward, and at worst, out of place.

2.     Many questioned and indeed resented, the mining of personal data, that leads to the type of ads they see. The basis of this was two fold: When it was accurate, they were creeped out by it. When it wasn’t accurate, they resented the assumptions that have been made about them based on demographics.

Putting my marketer hat back on for a moment, what then are businesses to do? It appears it’s a touchy consumer game being played right now, with a whole lot of advertising revenue at stake. Indeed Price Waterhouse Cooper recently reported in their Global Entertainment and Media Outlook study that online ad spending would surpass TV ad spending by 2016. But I think what’s worth noting here is the roll that Facebook plays in the lives of consumers. While it has the tremendous ability to mine data and create rich personal profiles of its users, it also has a tremendous amount of responsibility to maintain the trust of friendship, since that is the facilitating roll it plays in the lives of many. I’d invite you to consider that when you utilize Facebook in your social media strategy. Like a good friend you don’t want to be too forward. You don’t want to creep them out. And if you are going to venture into the profile game, make sure you are accurate.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – as either a consumer or as a business. Reply to this post or send me an email!


Mary Charleson

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