- A new study finds one Facebook like is all it takes for advertisers to tailor ads to your psychological profile.
- Targeting ads this way resulted in a 40% jump in clicks and 50% jump in purchases.
- The findings could be used for unethical purposes, but they could also help people live better lives, the lead author said.
Personalizing Facebook ads based on a user’s psychological profiles — not just their demographic traits, such as age or gender — can significantly increase the chance they will click on those ads and buy things, a new study has found.
Researchers at multiple universities saw up to a 40% increase in clicks and 50% increase in purchases when people’s ads were tailored to their specific level of introversion, extroversion, and openness to new experiences.
The findings can influence small purchases or national elections
Critically, these psychological assessments were made using not a robust test or analysis, but a single Facebook like that each person had made. Sandra Matz, a Columbia Business School professor and the study’s lead author, said the finding is worrisome.
“If you use it in a context where you’re trying to manipulate people, you can try and get them to do something that goes against their best interest, like not going out on Election Day to vote,” Matz told Business Insider. “That’s certainly a context where you don’t want to see it happen.”
Matz and her colleagues ran Facebook ad campaigns among 3.5 million users — many of them women between 18 and 40 in the UK — on behalf of select companies.
They then looked at what individual users had liked on the site, which Matz said presented a clear window into people’s personalities, and designed the specific ads based on those likes.
The findings suggest that even minor tweaks can substantially increase the chances you’ll click on an ad and buy the product, said Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist and assistant professor of marketing at Northwestern University, who wasn’t affiliated with the study. For instance, a running shoe ad for extroverts might emphasise running with friends, while an introvert’s ad would highlight running alone.
“Just by aligning the type of ad with your personality, they showed you can get a much higher click rate than if you’d misaligned them or just did it randomly,” Cerf told Business Insider.
Matz said psychological targeting isn’t always a bad thing. Companies that help people save money or engage in healthier lifestyles could use the insight to better reach potential customers. But she said it’s important to highlight the nefarious side, too.
“We want people to be, in a way, worried about it, so they take action,” Matz said. “But we also want a more balanced discussion,” in which people recognise that technology is neither good nor bad. Ads don’t have to be amoral, and she said companies can use them for multiple purposes.
Facebook isn’t the only place psychological targeting can happen
Matz also emphasised that Facebook is just one platform where companies could use psychology to inform their ad experience. It can happen virtually everywhere, she said, provided the user has even a minimal digital presence.
“You can predict personality and psychological traits from pretty much any digital footprint,” she said. “You can use people’s Facebook likes, browsing history; you can do it with people’s credit card transactions, smartphone data. There’s really no way of escaping it, unless you say ‘no’ to the whole idea of any digital service.”