The Facebook & Cambridge Analytica Incident: An Agency Perspective

By now you have undoubtedly heard the news stories regarding Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based voter-profiling firm, and their reported illegal misuse of millions of users’ Facebook data to target ads and content with an attempt to influence voting during the 2016 Presidential Election. While there are clear legal, political, and social implications surrounding this issue, our current perspective is that the violation of users’ trust in Facebook shouldn’t have an immediate impact on how advertisers need to approach the platform.

When used properly, legally, and respectfully, user data from digital platforms like Facebook can provide relevant content and better experiences. Joshua Lowcock, EVP and Chief Digital Innovation Officer at UM Worldwide, said it best in his article on AdExchanger where he expressed that data-driven marketing “… if performed with transparency and respect for the trust the public places in us, it has the power to not only make our industry better but help advertising fund new content, services, and tools that contribute value to society and the economy.” As advertisers and agencies, we have a responsibility to ensure the data is being collected with clear permissions, stored securely, and applied ethically for the benefit of our customers and the public.

The Cambridge Analytica-Facebook incident is important because it gives reason to question how much trust users should have in Facebook as stewards of their personal data. Thusfar, the conversation has not extended to include the trust those who advertise on Facebook have in the platform. While Facebook took care of this issue back in 2015, and is currently working to ensure this does not happen ever again, Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear there is still work to be done. In his interview on CNN Money, he expresses his regrets and made it clear that his company has made mistakes and is changing its policies to ensure user data is protected.

Ultimately, from an advertising perspective, the most important question is how this could impact the size and engagement level of Facebook’s audience. At this point, it is not clear if there has been any appreciable migration away from the platform. On our end, we have not seen any impact on performance of our campaigns. The hashtag #deletefacebook was trending on twitter earlier this week but it remains to be seen if users will actually go that far. In general though, this will make the broader public wearier of their privacy and security settings on Facebook and other digital platforms, impelling people to become more careful about what data they share. This is a good thing. The way we see it, it is the user’s responsibility to ensure their data is as safe as it could be based on the privacy and security settings available on these digital platforms.

At this point, our perspective is this: we see no reason to change our opinion of advertising on Facebook and all its properties. Rest assured, we are monitoring the issue closely, as it is clear that this story is still evolving. This includes analyzing any audience shifts and pricing fluctuations in the Facebook marketplace. In addition, we are monitoring sentiment towards Facebook across social platforms to determine any negative impact it may have on brand advertisers.

Finally, we believe that Facebook’s response to all of this scrutiny will ultimately determine the impact on how marketers leverage the platform. If the feeling that they are not being responsible with personal data prevails, there is the potential that government could step in to regulate. This scenario could impact both audiences and the effectiveness of advertising on the platform, which could cause a broader shift in digital media buying channel strategy. We will remain in communication regarding this issue if updates that affect our client business should arise.

For any additional questions, please reach out to
Joaquin Murillo
Managing Director, SOCIETY
T. 514-844-5050 x747