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How Meta’s Ad Changes Make Cultural Competency Even More Important

By Mia Logan

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Cultural competency in advertising and marketing functions will be more important than ever.

Meta (formerly known as Facebook) recently announced that starting on January 19th, it will no longer allow advertisers on any of its apps, including Facebook and Instagram, to use detailed ad targeting options related to “sensitive” identifying traits such as race, ethnicity, religious views, political beliefs, or sexual orientation. For organizations and companies who use these targeting features to deploy messages to various audiences, this marks a big change in how they will strategically and operationally need to approach reaching the groups they’re looking to engage with.

It also has broader implications for the advertising industry and corporate marketing departments. Cultural competency in advertising and marketing functions will be more important than ever.

Previously, people looking to reach a specific audience — like Asian Americans of a certain socioeconomic status, for example — could use some self-service platforms and a few button clicks to effectively target these audiences, all without actually needing to know much about the community they were trying to reach. Whether the content being delivered would resonate with the audience was always another story, but you could at least be sure your content would show up on their feeds.

Once this update goes into effect, however, it will be almost impossible to reach these audiences if you don’t actually understand who your audience is, what they care about, and how to communicate with them in a way that will actually connect with them.

Marketing and advertising professionals have been slowly acknowledging that cultural competency is a skill requiring specific attention and training. Until now, it’s been easy to keep marginalized people out of social advertising. But with this change, that’s no longer the case. Those who have thought about this already will be ahead of the game, and recognize a few key things:

  • Creating culturally competent advertisements requires hiring a diverse group of employees with a variety of lived experiences. You cannot target what you don’t understand, and people with lived experience are more likely to know how certain groups consume media and what their habits and tastes include. Some of our teams’ most effective and impactful work has been developed by creatives and strategists who are members of or have a close link to the target audience. While one person will never represent the entirety of the target audience, you need to have an informed perspective to take a thoughtful approach to your campaign. We did just that when working with the Service Employees International Union, for example, to successfully mobilize infrequent voters of color in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
  • For those who do not come from historically marginalized communities, training and practice is necessary. One does not become culturally competent overnight, and even employees from diverse backgrounds can’t (and shouldn’t) shoulder the sole responsibility of effective multicultural and inclusive ad targeting. Instead, relying on more traditional advertising methods, such as market research, contextual targeting, and affinity categories can help advertisers learn more about the communities they’re hoping to engage.
  • Targeted advertising isn’t going away because of Meta’s changes. But it will become harder to sift through large populations to focus on a specific group. Being successful will require a combination of the two factors above, coupled with expert experience in the advertising space. The best path forward in this scenario is for advertisers to look toward long-standing platforms and outlets that already have a strong relationship with the audiences they’re hoping to reach. When trying to reach and engage voters of color, for example, one might be tempted to rely on targeting popular news sites or politicians in order to bypass new restrictions around targeting by party affiliation. However, using contextual targeting to serve highly relevant ads to this audience based on the type of content they are most likely to be consuming on social media (music and entertainment, sports, social commentary, etc.) is another way to bridge the gap between your organization and your audience. 

With Meta’s changes set to take effect on January 19, now is the time to make changes if you haven’t already. It’s not only morally right, but your advertising strategy will depend on it.

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