Who knew that the 2016 presidential election would change the course of digital advertising? Following revelations of Russian infiltration into American’s news feeds, invasive data collection practices by the (now closed) political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica and a trip to Washington DC by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg, ad platforms are reacting by bringing more transparency to their platforms.

What is Ad Transparency?

Ad transparency refers to the disclosure of advertising practices to consumers. Advertising platforms have enabled marketers to set detailed audience targeting, raising concerns about data privacy and dishonest advertising practices. Due to mounting public pressure, advertising platforms – namely Facebook and Twitter – are releasing new guidelines and tools that give consumers greater visibility into the ads they’re seeing.

Facebook Ad Transparency Tools

Facebook now gives its users the ability to see all of the ads that any Page is running on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. Users can also access additional Page info, such as name changes.

Here’s how you can view a Facebook Page’s ads:

  1. Navigate to an organization’s Facebook Page
  2. Click on the “Info and Ads” menu item
      • If you’re on a desktop device, this will be towards the bottom of the left-hand sidebar menu
      • If you’re on a mobile device, look for the button just above the Page’s name

    facebook info and ads button to view any page's live ads (ad transparency)

  3. You can now view active ads and additional page info. There is also the option to filter ads by country.

viewing all live ads for a page using Facebook's ad transparency tools

Political Ads are Getting Special Treatment

Extra transparency measures are being taken with any ad that addresses a topic that falls under Facebook’s broad definition of “national issues of public importance.” Ads that mention subjects like the environment, poverty or “values” are being flagged for political content and, as a result, being disapproved.

US advertisers now need to go through an authorization process to be approved for political content. Some of the required information includes:

  • A US driver’s license or US passport
  • A US-based residential mailing address
  • The last 4 digits of your Social

Ads featuring political content are tagged as “Sponsored” and stored in a public archive for 7 years.

example of political ads on Facebook from Patagonia, which are viewable in Facebook's ad transparency database

Where Does Facebook Fall Short?

While Facebook has taken some critical steps in the name of ad transparency, they’re still protecting some critical information.

  • Only live ads are viewable in the “Info and Ads” section. Past ads are not included.
  • There’s limited information on the audience targeting settings for individual ads. You can see impressions by age, gender and location, but you don’t get any further insight into an ad’s demographic or psychographic targeting.

Twitter Ad Transparency Tools

Similar to Facebook, Twitter launched the Ads Transparency Center. In this database, you can search for advertisers and see their promoted tweets from the last 7 days.

example of viewing a promoted tweet in Twitter's Ad Transparency Center

Twitter is also giving some special treatment to advertisements with political content. You can view metrics like spend and impressions for these ad types. Twitter also plans to archive political content from advertisers indefinitely.

Google Ad Transparency Tools

Google, not to be left out, is also jumping in on the ad transparency trend. In May, Google announced new verification policies for political advertisers. As part of this roll-out, the company plans to release a Transparency Report this summer that details who is buying political ads and how much money is being spent. This will be accompanied by a searchable database of election-related ads.

How Ad Transparency Affects Social Media Marketers

While the general consumer may only access these databases occasionally (if they’re aware they even exist), marketers are certainly going to add them to their toolbox.

Here are ways that savvy social media marketers can take advantage of Facebook and Twitter’s ad transparency tools:

1. Keep tabs on competitors’ ad creative

Having the ability to quickly audit any competitor’s live ads can surface a lot of learnings that marketers can then apply to their own strategies. For example, here are a few questions that you can answer with ad transparency databases:

  • How often are ads being replaced?
  • Which creative variations appear to be winning (i.e., what are they not taking down?)?
  • Where are they driving traffic to on their website?

2. Compare tactics on Facebook vs Twitter

You can pull up both Facebook and Twitters ad transparency tools to get a side-by-side comparison of how competitors are advertising on each platform.

3. See where ads are being targeted geographically

With Facebook’s ad transparency tool, you can filter ads by location. This functionality might surface useful insights for messaging and image creative tactics by country.

location information for facebook ad transparency

Facebook, Twitter and Google have all made commitments to ad transparency and are promising even more tools and insights to come. As the balance of power shifts slowly in the direction of the consumer, marketers have the opportunity to take advantage.

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