Advertisers in other markets are going off Facebook due to privacy issues. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Advertisers in the United States (US) are going off Facebook. The UK Parliament calls the social media platform “digital gangsters,” and it’s no plain sailing in the rest of Europe either as data laws get tightened.

In the US, there is now even a campaign running to get advertisers off their Facebook addictions. And it’s as straightforward as #FacebookFree. The US broadcaster CNBC reported that “a number of companies have stopped advertising on Facebook and Instagram after the scandals involving user data and privacy.”

But with each new revelation about how Facebook tends to play around with its user data, are advertisers in the UAE and the Gulf having second thoughts about spending their ad dollars there? Or is it the case that data privacy is less of an issue with these advertisers?

“Regional advertisers do not have the internal CSR (corporate social responsibility) guidance on privacy matters,” said a senior media buying source. “This is why there is less of a vocal reaction from advertisers when it comes to in data use — that is quite unlike what you see in the US or Europe.

“Because of that, only global brands and their parent companies tend to take a stance each time tech/social media giants are seen not doing the right thing. A multinational have ready policies to take on any instance of media misbehaviour."

“It’s time regional advertisers followed that pattern. All that we're hearing from the social media platforms is that they will change their behaviour when it comes to user rights. But still, the problems persist.”

Sources in advertising agencies and media buying firms confirm that regional clients have so far not issued any instructions on reducing their exposure on Facebook.

“Regional advertisers are spending strictly based on the results they are getting out of each campaign they run on the platform,” said Satish Mayya, CEO of BPG Max. “If they see a particular campaign worked during a week, they are willing to come back … their decisions are based purely on performance.

“Regional advertisers reckon these data issues involving Facebook are happening in the US and there’s no reason why they should take a stand on it.”

But this has not stopped even regional advertisers from taking immediate action whenever they felt their brand images could be hurt by exposure to digital platforms. Just two years ago, leading advertisers pulled out or cut their exposures on Google-owned YouTube after several instances of their ads appearing alongside less than family-friendly videos.

YouTube managed to put in enough safeguards to convince them to return … until another blowback happened last month. Some of the leading FMCG advertisers again pulled out after a blogger spoke about video clips featuring young girls were getting a lot of unwarranted attention.

“For FMCGs, there can be no compromise on brand safety — this issue has been raised in the past and will continue to be done each time such an incident happens,” said a top official at a leading multinational. “It’s immaterial whether the decision to remove ads is taken at the headquarter level or regional.

“In the UAE, we have industry groupings that have advertisers, ad agencies and social/digital media platforms to resolve these concerns.”

The question is whether such groupings will now take up the theme of data privacy with as much intent. Because what is getting traded is something sacrosanct as far as the individual user is concerned. Good intentions alone will not get Facebook to change its ways — but those ad dollars finding its way to its gargantuan revenues will certainly do that.

In this regard, even advertisers in the UAE and the region can play their part.

Targeting users or is it ‘surveillance marketing’?

Social and digital media platforms sending out targeted messages honed to the meet the highly specific needs of a user — those algorithms and a bit of help from A.I. could make that happen.

But take those processes a step forward and what you get is “surveillance marketing”, where the messages get even more personalised based on the preferences and history of the user. Would users take to that hyper-personalised approach on the part of digital media?

Only they will have the answer to that. Until then, social media will be watching.