Facebook goes Minority Report with new ad targeting

11 Sep 2017

Facebook just took one step closer to the advertising environment foreshadowed in the Tom Cruise science fiction flick, Minority Report.

Remember the scene where Cruise is walking through a department store and personalized ads track him without his consent? Facebook may be doing something similar — but in reverse — with a new option in its Ad Manager product.

When you want to create a custom audience for a Facebook Ad, you first create a list based on website traffic, app activity, engagement or a manually updated file.

Now there’s a new option: “store visits”.

Facebook’s explanatory text says you can “create a list of people who have previously visited your business locations”.

In other words, if Facebook knows someone has visited a particular location (it says “store” but it could be anywhere — an employer, a hospital, an airport), it can use that in building an audience for the ad.

What does this have to do with Facebook Watch, our column about Facebook Marketplace and Facebook’s new jobs functionality?

Imagine a company looking to recruit new employees. If you need a Nike salesperson, a good place to start might be someone who has recently visited the Nike store. (Or the M&Ms store or a Ben & Jerry’s outlet.)

That’s just the start, though. Let’s extend our thinking beyond retail outlets to, say, doctors, nurses and radiologists. Where might they check in through Facebook? Perhaps a hospital or clinic? If Kaiser wants a new physical therapist, maybe they should target Sutter Medical Center in their recruiting campaign.

Or let’s see who visited the AutoMobility Expo in Los Angeles last November. That might be a good place to find automotive classified execs.

Hat tip to our friend Joel Cheesman for alerting us to this new use of Facebook ads. Cheesman also wonders whether, when the public gets savvy, if they’ll just opt out of such 1984-inspired ad targeting.

The problem, with all things Facebook, is it’s not so easy to opt out; the functionality is fairly well hidden.

Besides, do you know anyone who ever opts out of Facebook ads? We don’t.

And where Facebook leads, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn are sure to follow. (If they haven’t already.)

Tom Cruise had to replace his eyeballs in Minority Report to get away from the prying Big Brother. Given our emotional addiction to social media, breaking free from Facebook may be more like a heart transplant.

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Brian Blum

Brian Blum covers the U.S., Canada and Israel for Classified Intelligence Report, and contributes to our special reports and research projects. Originally from San Francisco and now based in Jerusalem, he has been with the AIM Group since 2004. He is the president of Blum Interactive Media, specializing in writing and multimedia content development for online, print, video and audio. His clients include newspapers, universities and non-profits. He is currently working on a book about the billion-dollar bankruptcy of a once high-flying Israeli startup.