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Audience Targeting in The Digital Age

1stparty-1080x628By Lara Good

For a long time people have been concerned about how the digital platforms and tools reduce our personal privacy. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, are one key contributor to this.

We are the ones who share our information with Facebook because we want it to know us and we want our friends to know us. All of this information makes Facebook a powerful tool for brands to use to reach us. Advertisers on Facebook have the unique ability to target audiences based on all the known information we give them, and sometimes more.

Using targeting, brands and businesses make sure their messages are reaching the most valuable audience for them. The most common type of targeting that brands use is what Facebook business calls “core audiences.” These core audiences are described by their demographics (age, gender, relationship status, education etc.), locations, interests and even trackable behaviors (like purchases and device usage). This gives brands a great power to engage the “right” audience.

It is not just about privacy anymore; there is now a new part of the debate. There is controversy over how targeting is being used to exclude certain groups from specific brand messages.

A recent incident, Facebook Business had job ads that were instructed to only target male users. This has been described as gender discrimination. Targeting such as this can help keep women out of traditionally male dominated fields. Gender discrimination is only the beginning of the issue. Age is another piece of information that could be used to exclude and discriminate people.

The Lesson: There is nothing inherently wrong with targeting and many consumers appreciate having messages that are relevant to them. However, as marketers we need to be aware of the implications of our actions and our messages; just because a medium has a capability, it does not mean that we can ethically use it in every case. We have to be sure that with the rise of more powerful communication tools we are using these tools ethically. In the digital age, often times regulation has to play catch up, and if your brand is not careful it could become the example of “what not to do.”


Vanian, J. (2018, September 18). ACLU and Labor Group Allege Facebook’s Ad Targeting Discriminates By Gender. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

Tobin, A., & Merrill, J. B. (2018, September 21). How some companies’ ads on Facebook exclude women applicants. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from


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