What Do Facebook Ad Changes Mean for Medical Advertising?

Facebook is currently weathering crises on multiple fronts. Investor confidence is declining, user patience is waning, and the threat of government intercession only seems to be growing. For most of 2018, the company has been facing criticism for its perceived user privacy and security shortcomings. Amid this controversy, Facebook also faces renewed allegations that its ad platform enables discrimination.

The latest permutation of this longstanding controversy comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). According to USA Today, HUD officials allege that Facebook ads “allow landlords and real estate brokers to engage in housing discrimination.” Naturally, Facebook denies this accusation.

However, rather than simply issuing yet another denial and apology, Facebook did something increasingly rare: It actually took steps to address the issue. To eliminate the potential for discrimination, Facebook is in the process of removing more than 5,000 targeting options from its ad platform.

This change mainly strives to eliminate the potential for discriminatory advertising in housing and employment—industries in which Facebook has, since at least 2016, faced the most criticism for giving advertisers targeting options that seemingly exclude protected groups. However, other industries will see more and more of an impact as the updates unfurl this fall.

So how will businesses in the medical industry be affected? Here’s a look at the changes to the Facebook advertising platform, as well as the possible impact.

Less Customization in Ad Campaigns

First, it’s important to know which targeting options are being removed from Facebook Ads Manager. Facebook has not released a comprehensive list of the parameters that are going away, but advertisers will no longer be able to target ads or exclude users based on criteria such as:

  • Race and ethnicity
  • Income
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability status
  • Purchasing history
  • Net worth

Facebook created ad sets around these and other identifiers based on user activity and information provided to the platform. This, federal agencies argue, makes it possible for advertisers to discriminate against protected groups in ad campaigns.

Similar to housing and employment, federal nondiscrimination laws also require equal opportunity access to healthcare and human services for protected groups. As a result, medical industry advertisers should already understand the importance of avoiding discrimination and be prepared to adapt their marketing strategies to meet federal regulations and fit within the available parameters of the Facebook ad platform.

Pros & Cons

In its post on changes to ad targeting, Facebook promises that it will require advertisers regardless of industry to “certify compliance with [its] non-discrimination policy” in order to continue using the ad platform. This might seem redundant considering the mass removal of targeting parameters, but explaining acceptable and unacceptable practices and requiring advertisers to signify their acceptance is a good way to set the standard for nondiscriminatory advertising on Facebook. It’s also one of the clearest messages the platform has ever issued on what it will and won’t accept from advertisers.

Unfortunately, the drawback to these changes is the loss of ad categories and segmentation capabilities that many advertisers have used for legitimate purposes. Contrary to what must seem like popular belief by now, there are ways for a business or organization to use Facebook ads for their benefit while still serving the consumer.

After all, Facebook’s extremely granular targeting allows advertisers to deliver ads that closely align with the interests and characteristics of select users. For businesses, this means better ROI on paid social media advertising. For customers, it means easier access to products and services they want.

But, with added restrictions, the ability to market products and services to specific demographics may suffer. Advertisers may also face initial frustration getting their ads approved, now that Facebook is taking steps to enforce inclusivity on the ad platform.

So, at least once these changes get underway, advertisers may see fewer options to target their ads and experience a longer approval process. But, for advertisers who certify compliance and follow the example established by Google, it shouldn’t prove difficult to adjust to this “new normal.”

What Now?

The exact impact of these changes on social media advertising in the medical industry remains to be seen. After focusing the crackdown on advertisers in the employment, housing, and credit industries, Facebook is undertaking a gradual rollout that will eventually affect all advertisers.

Some businesses are already seeing a reduction in their ad targeting options. As a marketing agency that works with medical specialists in private practice, our social media specialists have noticed changes in the options for ad targeting. But, so far, this has not impacted our ability to build targeted audiences and deliver relevant ads on our clients’ behalf.

Perhaps that’s the key difference that sets medicine apart from the industries that put Facebook at the center of the discrimination scandal. At its best, medicine is for everybody, regardless of their race, income, beliefs, or any other characteristic. Doctors, hospitals, device makers, pharmaceutical companies, and all parties in the industry understand that anyone is a prospective customer—discrimination doesn’t drive profits.

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