How to see why you're being targeted on Facebook

2 Easy Steps to See Why You’re Being Targeted in a Facebook Ad

Ever casually browse Facebook and stumble across an ad in your newsfeed that has nothing to do with your interests? I have - just last week on a coffee break, a video of a girl brushing her teeth with charcoal found its way to my newsfeed. What seemed to be out of a dental horror movie, the video continued through to a 7 day after photo with the same woman sporting a smile so white, the pearly gates would be jealous. A quick glance to the top left corner of the ad showed the tell-tale sign of a lightly written "sponsored" right below the page's profile photo. While I'd like to think my dental hygiene is on point (my dentist, if you're reading this, I definitely flossed yesterday), I don't avidly follow pages associated with dentists or Colgate. So why am I seeing a Facebook ad about charcoal teeth whitening? Has Facebook been analyzing my uploaded photos sporting a teethy grin and decided my Pronamel toothpaste just isn't cutting it?

Facial recognition isn't that advance (yet), so here's the answer as to why I see certain ads in my newsfeed. When a Facebook business or brand page creates a Facebook ad, they set up certain parameters on who the ad can be shown to. Every time the ad is shown to the correct group of people, Facebook then charges the business for the ad views. These parameters can get really specific. You can use Facebook's unparalleled advertising platform to show an ad to a 25-year-old female who has been married for 2 years, has 1 kid and has moved in the last 6 months. Talk about a targeted ad! But again - why am I seeing an ad for toothpaste?

Putting on your Dr. Holmes hat to figure out why you're seeing an ad is a lot easier than you think. To circumvent privacy violations, Facebook actually tells you exactly why you're seeing certain ads and even lets you opt out of seeing them in the future. Rolled out in 2014, the "Why am I seeing This" feature breaks down the reasons you're shown ads. How? Here are two easy steps to see why you're being targeted in Facebook ads.

1. Locate an ad in your newsfeed. It'll feature the light gray "sponsored" in the top left corner and will probably come from a page you've not heard of or haven't associated with. I just opened my newsfeed and saw a sponsored ad for a popular movie that'll be in theaters this week. So "that movie" doesn't tell Team Target Rocket to remove mention of their name, we've blurred out the sponsor's title. (That said, it shouldn't be hard to guess what movie Vin Diesel will be showing up in next - it's only the 8th sequel to the original).

2. In the top right corner of the same ad, you'll see a small downward facing caret or drop down arrow - click it. That's the secret sauce in determining why Facebook chose you to see the ad. In the same drop down, click on "Why am I seeing this?" - this will tell you why Facebook has decided you and that ad belong together forever. In this example, I am based in the United States, and I am under 49 years of age - this is the target demographic this business feels will have the best impression when shown their ad. So if you're 51 years old and living in the US, you won't be seeing an ad for this upcoming blockbuster. 

Depending on the ads, even more details can tell you why you're associated with a certain sponsored post. For the case of the charcoal toothpaste, I'd interacted with a page the featured organic products. Because I liked that page, the business felt that people like me would be interested in organic teeth whitening assuming I was into organic products and would be more likely to buy from them.

Why target Facebook ads so specifically? Businesses who advertise on Facebook are charged either by each time their ad is clicked or by each time their ads are shown to groups of thousands. By showing their ads to a very targeted market who are more likely to click buy (people who have dentures probably won't buy teeth whitening products), these companies can save thousands of dollars in ad spend and consumers like you and me can potentially find products we'd be interested in.

Don't like the ads you're being shown? In the popup, click "Options" and select "Hide all ads from this advertiser" to disable that business from targeting you in the future. To do a more in-depth assessment of why you're being targeted, you can manage your ad preferences here.

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