A few weeks ago, a journalist named Eric Ginsburg took to Twitter to reveal which keywords Instagram uses to targets you in their advertising. He showed exactly how to get to this specific page in Instagram’s settings, and asked his followers to post some of their most ridiculous results.
1. On your @instagram, click Settings > Security > Access Data > Ads.
2. Laugh at how wildly off-base the results are.
3. Share the most ridiculous results below.
Some of my best are “Plastic,” “Emotion,” “Woman,” and something called “Netmums.” #InstagramAds
— Eric Ginsburg (@Eric_Ginsburg) June 1, 2019
The internet responded with enthusiasm.
ah yes, the social democratic party of germany! pic.twitter.com/21FwcVAUYd
— 𝕛𝕒𝕞𝕚𝕖 (@jamieisanidiot) June 6, 2019
It’s gotta just be random words ??? pic.twitter.com/u9hAo4Xqoy
— jordan fish (@jordanfish) June 4, 2019
— Ee-dah (@lelemonon) June 4, 2019
Even some of the Zaius team took part in the game:
A few of mine…Leash, Plastic arts, Lifesaving, and Construction 🤔 https://t.co/78whxJIUzR
— Alex McPeak (@almcpeak) June 10, 2019
Mine were…interesting. Only one really is appropriate:
Brooklyn | Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc | Milwaukee | Livestock | Publishing | Steel | Gucci | Kentucky | Chewbacca | @GordonRamsay
— Kyle Flaherty (@KyleFlaherty) June 10, 2019
My #InstagramAds were fairly accurate…with a few glaring exceptions:
Yes: beaches, rock climbing, interior design, sustainable living
No: Ultramarthon, motorsport, horror
?: Nepal, cactus https://t.co/4R8oQihdW0
— Cara Hogan (@CaraHogan27) June 10, 2019
As entertaining as this experiment is, it also confirmed a few of our beliefs about third-party data.
The overwhelming pattern was that yes, some targeted keywords were accurate. But a lot of them weren’t, and many weren’t even close. In fact, respondents didn’t even know what some of their results were.
As marketers, we’re always looking for opportunities to connect with our customers. But when you lean on third-parties, it’s hard to know where those platforms are getting their data in the first place, or how it’s being used to target different audiences.
Instagram has attempted to offer some insight into how they decide which ads they show you:
“We want to show you ads from businesses that are interesting and relevant to you, and to do that, we use information about what you do on Instagram and Facebook (our parent company) and on third-party sites and apps you use. For example, you might see ads based on the people you follow and things you like on Instagram, your information and interests on Facebook (if you have a Facebook account), and the websites and apps you visit.”
While this surface-level response attempts to explain how Instagram decides which ads to show you, it’s still extremely vague and doesn’t actually explain why certain interests are associated with our accounts. And because their algorithm is not open, we’ll never really know exactly what we did that would warrant an ad showing up on our feed for plastic arts, for example.
The Reality of Third-Party Data
As DTC brands look for more ways to reach, communicate, and connect with current and potential customers, opportunities to market through third-parties have seemed incredibly appealing.
Last October, Amazon invited a group of DTC brand founders to their headquarters to discuss the possibility of becoming a part of the Amazon marketplace.
While leaders from the brands voiced multiple reasons as to why the opportunity didn’t seem to be a good fit for them — like lack of branding and discoverability — one, in particular, stands out: Amazon will not share meaningful customer data “meaning DTC brands would only get access to general Amazon customer insight and not specifics about who is buying their products on Amazon.”
While the idea of getting in front of Amazon’s huge customer base and taking advantage of their popular shipping services may be tempting, brands that work with Amazon lose valuable insight into the customer journey. Without that data, brands have little leverage when it comes to getting their marketing to cut through the noise of the crowded marketplace.
As brands strive to stand out, options that allow them to own and take advantage of customer data, while also allowing them to cater to conveniences will win customer loyalty.
We’re not going to stop relying on third-party advertising channels to reach a broader audience anytime soon, but the importance of owning customer data whenever you can is clear.
You need a single view of your customers in order to execute campaigns based on known characteristics and preferences instead of guessing at peoples’ interests like Instagram.
Instead, sending content that is timely, relevant, and pertinent to their specific stages in the customer lifecycle will be much more successful in influencing their next purchase.
While third party data can be useful in some cases, first-party data will always be more accurate and more useful to you as a marketer.
Owning customer data and using it to deliver personalized, targeted messaging means you can meet your customers where they are without the guesswork.