Behind the Scenes of Facebook Marketing

Behind the Scenes of Facebook Marketing

Facebook has a very interesting way of delivering the ads that businesses run though their platform. Understanding this process can be technical and complex. 

To demonstrate this process here is an example: 

Skylar recently clicked on a link that a friend posted to a website to buy some snowshoes.  Almost immediately she started getting Facebook (FB) ads for similar snowshoes from different brands, on different sites. Being somewhat familiar with how digital ads work Skylar was aware that Facebook can use the terms that she has Googled in the past to remarket products to her, but she had not Googled the snowshoes, and she couldn’t remember if she visited this company’s Facebook page before.

Is it possible for businesses to know that Sklar clicked on a link and visited a website and to then show her ads of similar products?

I am sure many of you have had similar experiences to Skylar, after all, it is not even the first time that this has happened to her. 

Skylar never really trusted those follow-up competitor ads as she always felt like they were from random companies that would possibly send inferior products, but this incident did get her thinking about how Facebook decides what ads to “suggest” for her.

How Does Facebook Choose What Ads to Show You

Verbal Conversations

Have you ever had a verbal conversation and then opened your phone to an ad about that exact thing?

It really flustered Skyler the first couple of times this happened to her. She can remember having a verbal conversation with her husband about something, and the next time she opened Facebook, ads about the very thing they were just talking about popped up.

This situation occurs because The Facebook app has microphone permission, meaning it can read input from your phone’s microphone. You can turn that off, but most people don’t think to do that, especially if you have the settings changed on your phone itself.

As well as listening in on your personal conversations, Facebook has various other avenues to collect data points and target you with specific ads, if you’re not okay with this you can go into facebook settings and change it.

Facebook Pixel


Facebook Pixel, now called “Meta Pixel”, is a code that can be placed on your website to track users interacting with it, on and off Facebook and Instagram. Businesses can use this data to optimize campaigns and retarget customers who have previously displayed interest in their products and services, but as we’re now finding out, so can others.

Suppose you bought a hydro flask from a website that uses Pixel, and someone else sets up an ad campaign to target people who have bought hydro flasks in the last three months. You will probably be one of the recipients of the ads since Facebook now has the data of you doing it from Facebook pixel. You are now a “lookalike audience” for other brands who know you are looking at or are interested in hydro flasks.

What Skyler found even stranger was all of the ads she got for a North Face Tent after she just walked past one in Sports Check, (while waiting for help) and stopped to admire it for a couple of minutes. Apparently, they had it “geo-fenced,” and since she was recorded with her phone as having stood near the product for a certain length of time, they showed her ads for it for the next few months. 

Facebook can also access your camera, meaning if it flashes by a product on a shelf, even for a second, it may start feeding you ads for that same product.

IP Addresses, WiFi and Bluetooth Data


Skyler has now decided to turn off her “location” on her phone when she is out and about to avoid location-specific targeted ads. But she has noticed that she is still getting location-based ads despite doing so.  

This could be happening to Skyler because she needs to go into Facebook itself to change her settings, but it could also be related to the fact that Facebook relies on WiFi and Bluetooth data to track customers. Nowadays, many retailers offer free in-store WiFi and shopping apps. Though these services offer many benefits, by using them, she is also allowing something called “active tracking.” 

Usually, in-store WiFi can only be accessed through a “captive portal,” which is the pop-up page that asks you to submit personal information, like an email address, before connecting to the WiFi. You also need to agree to terms and conditions before accessing the internet. 

When submitting personal information on the portal page, you’re also giving the store access and permission to use a lot of data in ways you’re not realizing. This allows them to get hyper-specific with tracking, including monitoring how long you spend looking at a product. 

Though recently, Facebook announced that it does not use WiFi or Bluetooth data if you have your location turned off, but they do use IP and information such as check-ins and current city from your profile. All this is explained in Facebook’s privacy policy and on their Facebook Ads page, and yet it’s actually quite uncommon for people to read the privacy policy that describes exactly what FB is going to do to track them.

Hyper Targeting


With access to over 2,000+ data points on every single person who uses their platform, Facebook can hyper-target the audience right down to income, political affiliations, religious associations, and how liberal or conservative you are. 

This is what the FB pixel and cookies are all about, though Skyler didn’t realize it openly allowed Facebook to grab information about other sites’ customers. When a business signs up to use Meta Pixel, they are agreeing to share that data and literally volunteer their information to assist competitors. Its important to remember that they are also “taking information” from competitors. 

If Sklyer opened an ebike store, she could market ads to anyone who visited the bike store you just bought a bike from and piggyback off their marketing efforts?

Why Facebook Advertising Is So Effective


In the olden days, businesses put ads in newspapers and hoped that people who were  interested would see it and take action. Now, businesses can specifically say, “I want people who have bought this specific brand of hat from a business on Facebook in the last two months to see my ad.”

Handing Facebook Confirmation of Purchasing Interest


When you buy a backpack from a business through Facebook, you are essentially handing the platform 100% confirmation that you are a buyer of backpacks. They will take advantage of that information to produce the best outcome for other advertisers.

There are actually a bunch of other ways to aggregate this data, but if you want to talk about the interesting side of backpack ads on Facebook, we have a question for you. 

Had you not clicked the link and instead manually typed in the URL and bought the backpack, would you still be harassed with backpack ads that you don’t need?

Data Points Explained


When you visit a single website to buy a backpack, it is too general or broad a category to show a lot of intent unless you visit many sites that offer the same products in a short period, so you won’t get a lot of ads by just visiting one website.

If the site sold more than backpacks, and you end up in a particular product category, ads for that specific product may be targeted at you since it will be more specific to your interests.

Adding a product to the cart shows buyer intent and puts your profile into the “likely to purchase category.” Actually making a confirmed purchase just directs all the ads at you. Facebook wants its advertisers to drive sales, and you are a proven potential buyer.

A good example of this is from a high-volume hiking boot site who wanted to run a retargeting campaign based on size. Every product was given a unique URL (for example, domain/blue-boots), and then every size rendered a new trailing query string in the URL as customers clicked on the size to see if they were available. So if the customer was looking for size 10 red hiking boots, they would be directed to domain/red-hiking-boot?size=10.

Then individual creatives were generated for every shoe and size, retargeting the specific URL. If they left without actually purchasing the product, FB would instantly retarget them with an ad along the lines of, “Hey, you forgot your size 10 red hiking boots. Here’s 5% off!”

People can become a little suspicious of ads that are this targeted though, so it is important to use them in the right circumstances. Imagine getting an ad for the specific product and size you were just looking for. It is super uncomfortable for users when they think Facebook knows the size of their pants and shoes.

Moreover, large businesses who own several locations in the same verticals will sometimes cross-populate their ads with shared pixel information or multiple pixels on the same site. This involves splitting ads along the lines of interest and disregarding the pixel data originated from. 

Though Facebook advertising provides businesses with ample opportunities to increase brand exposure and revenue, how you use it can play a huge role in building trust and strong relationships with customers.  

Want to learn more about ethical Facebook advertising? Get in touch with Spring Creative to book a complimentary session with our team, or contact us online.