Facebook Ad Targeting – Best Practices

 In Facebook for Business, Facebook Support, Reputation Management

Facebook Ad Targeting - Best PracticesFacebook Ads is the most targeted traffic your advertising dollars can buy. Sure, we’ve had Google AdWords for some time and they’re very powerful and effective. But Facebook takes the ability to hyper-target – based on a vast range of personalized data – to a whole new level.

Given the amount of data Facebook users share on the site, some of the areas you can target with your ads include:

  • Location: Country/State/Province/City
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Birthday
  • Relationship status
  • Interested in status
  • Language spoken
  • Education level
  • Place of work


In addition, you can choose to target Facebook users who are connected — or not already connected — to YOUR Page, Event, Group or App. Plus, you can target the friends of users connected to your Page, Event, Group or App.

Facebook Ad - Connections

Facebook Ad - Connections detail

Likes & Interests

Here’s where the game of Facebook advertising can get real tricky. You can target any “Likes & Interests” that Facebook users have on their profiles:

So, of the millions of possible activities, movies, musicians, books, TV shows, celebrities – you name it – everything is fair game to target in your Facebook ads. This means you could, if you wanted to, without breaking any Facebook rules, take out ads targeting users who have joined specific fan pages (now that fan pages are really “like pages.”)

Trademark infringement

Where it crosses the line and becomes a possible infringement of trademark/intellectual property, is when the advertiser uses a person/brand’s name in the ad that could cause consumers to be confused.

Recently, an advertiser has been running a series of Facebook ads using my name in the ad copy and targeting Facebook users who have “liked” my page. The advertiser had the intent to divert people to their fan page services.

Facebook Ad using Mari Smith

Facebook Ad using Mari Smith

Facebook Ad using Mari Smith

Facebook Ad using Mari Smith

My inbox and fan page wall kept filling up with friends asking me if these were my ads, if I was getting any kind of compensation, if I’d endorsed the ads, if I sponsored the ads, if I was affiliated with the product or the advertisers. The answer was a resounding “no.”

My name was being used without permission and it just did not sit right with me. The ads, the landing page and the service all just looked and felt completely disconnected from my own brand. (I’m trying to be polite and diplomatic here. Really, I mean to say, “spammy.”)

I wrote a post on my fan page wall about this practice of targeting other fan pages, and invited my Facebook community to express their opinions. I was amazed by the flood of responses: 178 comments.

Mari Smith Facebook Fan Page Ad post

It seems we found a rather heated, and somewhat divided, topic. Comments ranged from “it’s totally unethical and out of integrity,” to “you should be flattered, you’re a brand!” Hm. 😉

I decided to seek legal counsel and spoke with my attorney today. There is a term in Trademark law called “initial interest confusion.” Per Kevin Houchin:

…the federal trademark laws are in place to prevent consumers from being confused as to the source of a good or service and by preventing consumer confusion, protect the investment of brand owners in their company’s reputation, goodwill, and marketing dollars. There’s a concept in trademark law called “initial interest confusion” which is when one company unfairly diverts the potential consumer’s attention away from the brand they were looking for over to the competing product at the moment of initial interest, even if there is no confusion at the point of actual purchase. ~houchinlaw.com

(My buddy, Ed Dale, was also the target of this same advertiser and invited his fans to share their thoughts. Again, a somewhat divided response… though Ed himself doesn’t seem to mind the ad practice.)


I decided to track down the advertiser and simply ask him to stop running the ads. He responded promptly and courteously stating he would do so soon. I waited almost 24 hours, then asked again. 😉 The ads have stopped, thankfully.

The whole arena of buying keywords for ads that target brands, businesses, trademarks is rather sticky and has been something Google has had to deal with for awhile. Google have a comprehensive help section including their AdWords and AdSense trademark policy. My attorney tells me Google typically respond promptly to any infringement claims and take down the ads in question.

I’m guessing Facebook get their fair share of similar keyword trademark issues, seeing as they make it so easy for any keywords to be purchased. Facebook’s Advertising Guidelines do, however, include a clause stating the advertiser cannot infringe on intellectual property rights of third parties.

SO, what are your thoughts about this type of practice? How do you respond if you see an ad capitalizing on someone else’s name/brand/reputation? Do you think this is an area that Facebook should take more control over? Please share your thoughts with me in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

Recommended reading:

Mari Smith

Forbes Top Social Media Power Influencer | Facebook Marketing Expert | Globe-trotting Speaker, Author | 'Mari like Ferrari' | Bubbly Scottish-Canadian!

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  • Ed Hudson

    As I’ve already said on your FB page comments, I think advertising of this type is VERY unethical, and “SHAME ON FACEBOOK” for even approving such an ad. Especially when they are so tight about other less trivial things. Glad to see you put a stop to this, and hopefully it sends a message to others advertising on Facebook (and Google too for that matter).

  • I think that’s really bad practice to use your brand without your express permission and leverage your brand equity to drive traffic back to their business. I think you took the right steps Mari. I can only imagine more of this will happen and that privacy applications and services are going to proliferate as a result to protect our online identity.

    Thanks for sharing.


  • Anonymous

    I personally think its OK as long as they don’t use the name (like yours) in the ad itself but only use it to target people that are interested in your fan page. I do think that useing your name or anyone else s is disingenuous and misleading. I saw the ad in question and it didnt sit right the way it was worded. Howeer I get lots of ads targeting my interest in FB and FB pages etc likely becuase I like your page

  • I feel it is just bad business if you have to use your competitors name to sell your product. That’s the time to take a hard look at your USP and your business ethics. If you can’t sell your product without tricking people than why are you selling it?
    Marketing & Advertising has always walked this thin line. I have seen advertising against competition done well; like the billboards for a rum company,”You can drink it without raising your leg.” But when companies have to lower themselves to using the actual product name or trick customers into thinking a brand or celebrity endorses them, it is just plain wrong. They are basically saying that their customers are idiots and do not know the difference.

    Congrats to you, Mari, for standing up for your brand!!

  • I saw those adds after you wrote about them, definitely a miss use of power to me. I wonder if you know anything about emails I have received saying they are ‘facebook team’ and offering free gifts to facebook users. The sender is NOT facebook, some marketing company, and it looked pretty spammy to me, you have to accept ‘offers’ from 13 sponsors to get your ‘free’ gift. I want to know did facebook give them my email?!?

  • Vickiscannon

    Mari – Another great article and I am proud of you for sticking up for your image and brand. It may be flattering that you are a “brand”, but if you don’t control your image, who will?

  • JoAnn Lefebvre

    Targeting your fans is one thing. Capitalizing on your name/brand is another. For years, I stayed away from marketing because I felt it was too manipulative and deceitful, then came social media and inbound marketing, and I felt right at home. Tactics like the one you’ve experienced, really tick me off. But, if it’s any consolation, the social media community deals swiftly with these culprits. This should be easy money for an attorney! He-he!

  • Thank you kindly, Vicki!! I do my best to give everyone the benefit of the doubt… at first. 😉 You’re absolutely right.

  • Good point, JoAnn — there’s nowhere to “hide” with the extreme visibility of social media. Kinda like our own virtual neighborhood watch program! 🙂

  • Good point about the extremes Facebook go to regards other matters that aren’t that important!)

  • Gary Bradley

    I am confused.. You titled the article Facebook Ad Targeting Best Practices, but then rant about the bad practice of trademark infringement for 60% of the article. Are you actually saying that’s a best practice?!

  • Dorsey R

    I’ve tried to target an ad towards people who like a competing Facebook page but it won’t let me. They only have 280 fans—- I’m wondering if Facebook has a minimum number of fan limit that a page has to reach before it will allow you to target that audience. Does anyone know?

  • Paul

    I would like to know. My experience is that the magic number is about 650+ fans. Most of the time it works if they have 650+ fans, but it is not consistent. For individuals, it works sometimes if they have 1000+ followers. My question would be how can I find out the correct name for the group that I am trying to target? Sometimes it is not the same as the name of the group. Sometimes it drops the “The” in the name. ex. The Department of Veterans Affairs would be Department of … Sometimes the “of” is dropped. But there is nothing consistent about this. So, how do we find the official targeting name for the group that we are trying to target?

  • Guest

    That previous post is an impressive piece of spam. I’m surprised you haven’t removed it!

  • Good grief, not at all. I wanted to highlight a bad practice. Apologies for the confusion!!

  • Sandy

    Hi Mari, our town is celebrating its centennial this year. So I would like to create a facebook targeting people who say they are FROM Port Alberni (our town) so I can encourage them to come back for a visit. I know there is a spot in the database where you can say where you are from. Is it possible to use this in a targeted ad?

  • I agree that it’s bad practice, and I think you handled it in the very best way possible! Sometimes a little grace, dignity and poise go a long, long way.

  • jwero

    I am amazed at the power of Facebook Ads, when using some precise targeting.  I recently made a how to video showing small business owners how to create facebook ads that target users birthdays, engagements, expecting parents and users who have recently moved.  I help it’s helpful to someone.  You can find it here http://www.mnwebco.com/blog/how-target-facebook-birthdays-facebook-ads

  • I found this post searching for ways to target facebook users that are fan of another page. I was wondering if that is still possible, because I cannot find it anywhere. £

    If I use the “Specifik Interest” and look for the Facebook page I want to target (or the fans of that page) it always disappears when I leave that field of the form.

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