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Dark advertising

Posted by Flux on 

26 September 2022

What’s trending?
Dark advertising is a form of advertising where companies use social media to generate ads that are visible only to the targeted individuals and not to the general public. Dark ad posts do not show up on a company’s Facebook page, Instagram, or other social media accounts. Users can click on them to go to whatever is being promoted, but those same users will not be able to find the post again on the business’s account page. A recent Australian study by VicHealth, Monash University and The University of Queensland found that 97% of the ads seen by participants on their social media pages were “dark” to some degree. Many of these ads had a ‘shop now’ button, turning information into an easy chance to purchase something. 

Why is it important? 
Dark advertising, when used appropriately, can be an effective marketing tool. However, it is also being used to market alcohol, gambling and unhealthy food. Traditional advertising can be viewed and analysed while online advertising lacks oversight and transparency. A study by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) audited the advertising transparency of seven major digital platforms. It found that “digital platforms do not provide meaningful transparency of what alcohol companies and other advertisers are doing on their platforms.”  Generally, an accessible archive of ads is not available. In an extreme case, in 2017 investigative journalists at ProPublica were able to purchase a test ad on Facebook targeting users associated with the term “Jew hater”. 

What can businesses do about it?
Businesses that advertise in this way, should take note that consumers are concerned they are being manipulated by these dark ads, according to the Australian study mentioned above.

“They don’t want that kind of material in their feeds”, says Dr Brady Robards, Senior Research Fellow, Sociology at Monash University. It’s also worth noting that watchdogs and regulators are calling for more transparency in the advertising industry. Clearly dark advertising poses a business risk and companies face severe reputational damage if it becomes known that their ads are promoting negative content. In addition, the tech companies facilitating socially harmful content are facing the real threat of government regulation. FARE, mentioned above, is calling for the advertising model of social and digital media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok to be open to public scrutiny.

By Faeeza Khan

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Image credit: Ben Collins

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