Facebook’s ad feedback update could be a force for good for all digital ads

The genius of Facebook’s new feature which gives users the opportunity to provide feedback about why they chose to hide ads in the News Feed, isn’t just the fact that it’s allowing people to complain about naff ads. Rather, it’s that Facebook is applying more weighting to feedback from those who rarely speak up – not just the “Angry from Berkshire”s whose feet are firmly welded to their soapboxes – and attempting to serve up better ads to everyone as a result.

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Earlier this week Facebook announced an update which will see it asking users who have chosen to dismiss ads why they did so. The options include: it’s not relevant to me, I keep seeing this, it’s offensive or inappropriate, it’s spam or something else – with sub-options to help provide further explanation.

Facebook says that in testing it stopped showing ads that users said were offensive or inappropriate. As a result – as you’d imagine- there was a “significant decrease” in the number of ads reported as offensive or appropriate.

The update has also taken into account overzealous complainers. It has chosen to weight feedback differently based on how often a user hides ads and other content from their News Feed. When testing the update, Facebook found people who rarely hide ads ended up hiding 30 per cent fewer ads with the new model, meaning it helps surface better ads, even to those who aren’t so vocal.

It’s this insight that make the tool far more powerful than your average arbitrary feedback form. In doing so, it tackles only the worst form of advertising – which arguably shouldn’t have got through the net in the first place (but that’s a column for another day) – and not just ads hidden because they were ads.

More digital platforms should offer users more control over the ads they see and simple to follow options to provide feedback.

There already exists the “AdChoices” logo on many targeted ads across the web, offering users the option to find out more information about behavioural advertising and the ability to manage their advertising settings when they click.

It also provides the option to offer feedback. But the process is clunky and the tool is aimed squarely at advertisers, with complaint options including “this is violating my trademark”, “double serving” and “this is violating other AdWords policies” for ads served on Google’s network, for example.

Surely it would be better for both advertisers and consumers if I can tell YouTube that I have never been in the market for a digital TV aerial from a trustworthy family-run Peterborough supplier (True story. Still none the wiser as to why I was served that ad today)? Or that I’ve already bought that dress I was looking at on ASOS two weeks ago.

We know, even through the fog of our marketing industry cloud, that consumers believe advertising – as a concept – is insidious. They accept that it’s needed to fund their free services and they kind of sniggered at that “Wall’s onesie” thing the other day, but heart advertising they do not. Hence why, when given a choice, they’ll banish it altogether. And why Spotify has more than 10 million paying subscribers and AdBlock Plus more than 300 million users.

There will alway be vocal dissenters of online ads, but digital platforms shouldn’t be making it so easy for them to issues their broadsides. Online advertising can be delightful, creative and effective. By offering users Facebook-like weighted feedback tools, the digital industry can go some way to weed out the worst examples and let the best ads shine.

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