No more special ad audiences

BFSI Ads Need to Adapt… Again

Social advertising is, in many ways, a grand experiment. It’s ever-changing and always evolving, constantly forcing participants to re-evaluate their approach. In August 2022, we reached yet another critical iteration in the experiment. Moving forward, Meta—parent of and ad purveyor for Facebook, Instagram, Messenger—has stopped allowing Special Ad Audiences. 

While the decision to do away with Special Ad Audiences is frustrating for many marketers, it has the potential to be downright debilitating for Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance (BFSI) organizations. Special Ad Audiences for Categories related to credit cards, auto financing, long-term financing, mortgage loans, and more are no longer available—all but leaving BFSIs in the lurch. 

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As is the nature of any good experiment, it’s important for BFSIs to observe, learn, and adapt to these new rules. JXM is already pivoting, to help our BFSI clients effectively reach their target audiences in other ways. 

Saying goodbye to specialized targeting

Once a crucial tool among regulated advertisers, Special Ad Audiences are no more. The defining feature of these advertising segments was their instant compliance with BFSI advertising regulations. Groups were “adjusted to comply with audience selection restrictions associated with a campaign’s chosen special ad category.” Meta then served ads without using targeting information such as age and gender, or certain demographics, behaviors or interests. 

Meta’s decision to depreciate Special Ad Audiences stems from a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In their place, the company plans to introduce a new mode of ad targeting and delivery, aimed at improving the relevancy of ads among demographics. According to Meta:

“We are building into our ads system a method — referred to in the settlement as the “variance reduction system” — designed to make sure the audience that ends up seeing a housing ad more closely reflects the eligible targeted audience for that ad.”

Put another way, Meta is working to reduce the potential for unsavory (predatory) financial advertising practices. And while 99% of BFSI organizations advertise with integrity, this decision puts them in a new and complicated position in how they delineate audiences and speak to consumers. 

Changing the rules halfway through the game

The question now is, how are credit unions and financial institutions supposed to classify their ad audiences? Without Special Ad Audiences, there’s a big gap when it comes to advertising credit and loan products, or anything else having to do with financial services. 

Meta’s advice? “Exploring broader targeting options.” Great. Thanks, guys. 

Not only is Meta’s suggestion downright unhelpful, it also casts light on the perilous hurdles BFSIs face in trying to play by the rules. Lookalike Audiences aren’t an option here. Casting a wider net by targeting broad-scope interests and behaviors only dilutes targeting… which goes against the spirit of Meta’s forthcoming “variance reduction system.” BFSIs are stuck.

Thankfully, at JXM we tend to see obstacles as invitations for innovation. We’ve started exploring new ways to both effectively target audiences and maintain advertising integrity around Special Ad Categories. After all, there’s more than one way to shine a penny.

Redefining the scope of the approach

While the elimination of Special Ad Audiences poses some problems for advertising certain products, it’s not outright debilitating for BFSI organizations. At JXM, we’re exploring opportunities to work around this evolving situation in a cost-effective way

For example, what’s not talked about in this debacle is that it’s still possible to target pixel audiences and upload first-party data lists to create custom audiences. This presents significant targeting (and retargeting) opportunities for BFSIs—including the ability to clean, segment, and maintain lists for different targeted campaigns. So long as your list was cultivated through an opt-in basis through your owned channels, there’s still a significant opportunity to leverage Meta’s advertising tools. 

From an on-platform standpoint, this is also an opportunity to A/B test with both offer and non-offer creative, and gather data that sheds light into which groups are more likely to interact with specific messaging. It will encourage marketers and ad managers to reexamine the ways they audit and manage campaigns. 

Meta isn’t the only game in town, either. While Facebook and Instagram offer the largest breadth of opportunity, platforms like LinkedIn offer an audience that’s receptive—in the right frame of mind to receive and digest BFSI-related ads.  

Things never get easier for BFSI organizations

By the sheer nature of the industry, BFSI organizations will continue to face hurdles in where and how they’re allowed to advertise products and services. We know this—it’s been the same story for the past 25 years. The only difference is that now, as the targeting tools become more granular, so do the restrictions on how we can use them. 

Right now, Meta’s discontinuation of Special Ad Audiences seems like a bombshell for BFSIs. That said, Meta’s variance reduction system is expected to go live by December 31, 2022, and should answer many questions about how to move forward using Special Ad Categories. Until then, experimentation is the path forward.  

Don’t go it alone! JXM loves a challenge, and we’re used to thinking outside the box for our BFSI clients. Chat with us about opportunities to evolve in tandem with the great social marketing experiment, rather than being overwhelmed by it.