Brian Swichkow did the only thing you can do when a friend plays a well-thought out and possibly humiliating prank on you: He got even.
In a blog post, Swichkow, who has a marketing background and is the cofounder and CEO of CatalystMLM, says he preyed on the fact that his roommate, a professional sword swallower, ironically can’t swallow pills without gagging. So Swichkow created an ad that read: “Trouble swallowing pills? Does it seem ironic that swallowing swords is easy and then small pills make you gag?”
He kicked off his plan by testing Facebook’s Custom Audience waters. First, he tried targeting a sizeable audience pool of 10,000 people. Swichkow saw some of the highest click-through rates he’d ever seen, and then decided it was time to take the next step.
Swichkow explains on his blog:
I realised that stepping things up a notch was actually stepping them down a notch in this case and I asked how targeted I could make my audience. I said to myself, “What if I only had like five people in an audience? What if I only had one person in an audience? … I should test this … I should test this on my roommate.
With an audience of just one — his roommate, Roderick Russell — Swichkow planned his targeted ad campaigns. He opted to place the ads on the right rail of the web browser, instead of within the News Feed, to keep his anonymity throughout his revenge campaign.
Swichkow took advantage of one of Facebook’s major advertising flaws, at least from the user’s perspective: Mainly, that users can’t find out why they are being shown a specific ad, and what data, from whichever sources, was collected to show that particular ad.
“I was going to target him with highly personalised messages that were focused on things Facebook truly shouldn’t know about his personal life — things that weren’t even online, let alone on Facebook,” he writes. “The goal, to make him unbelievably paranoid.”
Swichkow deceptively played with the campaign parameters, adjusting how often his roommate would see the ad so he would be constantly on-edge, searching and waiting for another pill swallowing ad to appear. As the campaign progressed, he included even more personal tidbits, that Facebook definitely shouldn’t have known about him, adding to his roommate’s paranoia.
The saga continued for about three weeks. It ended when Swichkow slipped up, using information his roommate had only told him. At that point, Swichkow finally revealed himself, but only after making his roommate completely terrified to the point that he thought Facebook was actually bugging his phone lines and eavesdropping on his private conversations.
Read how Swichkow used Facebook’s advertising tools to execute his plan here.
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