Mad Hat Maven Creative

Are You Advertising in the Dark? The Power of Dark Ads

The term “dark ads” may sound ominous, but dark advertisements that are mindful and ethical can shed light on who your customers really are and what they respond to. Although dark ads can be used to spread negativity, when used appropriately, dark ads can illuminate the best online advertising strategy for your business.

What are dark ads?
Dark ads are paid social media posts that only appear for certain targeted segments of customers. Unlike boosted or promoted posts, which usually end up on a wide variety of people’s social media feeds, dark ads are only visible to people with the characteristics you have specifically targeted. These posts are often called simply “sponsored” ads, but they are not seen by everyone. Dark ad posts will not show up on your company Facebook page, Instagram, or other social media accounts. Users can click them to go to whatever you are promoting, but those same users will not be able to find the post again on your business account page.

Dark ads first became famous on Facebook, where it is possible to target online advertising using very detailed user characteristics, but now, dark ads can be created on almost every social media platform. Some platforms, like Snapchat or Instagram, treat all ads as dark ads. Others give you more options. The key difference is that dark ads are designed for a specific audience and are only seen by that audience.

Why use dark ads?
Target exactly who you want

We’ve all been annoyed by the presence of unwanted online advertising on our social media feeds. Dark ads ensure that your promotional posts go to people who are likely to be interested.

Test your content strategy

Because dark ads are highly customized, you can compare the response of different segments. You can even split a segment and serve half of your audience one version of your post and the other half the same post with a different image. Based on the number of interactions each post receives, you can make better choices about the imagery you use in the future.

Learn who your customers really are

By promoting several different ads to several different user segments, you can get a better idea of the types of people most interested in what you have to offer. With dark ads, users can still share and comment, so you can see what people are saying about each message you publish. When crafting customer personas to use as your primary audiences for online advertising campaigns, you can use actual comments and descriptions of real people to help bring your personas to life.

How dark ads can go wrong
Dark ads have earned bad press because they have been used to promote negative and harmful ideas within insular communities of people. Some social media companies are working to put controls in place to prevent malicious uses of dark ads, but many wish they would work faster.

There is a strong argument to be made that dark ads are inherently exclusionary. When you target or exclude people based on characteristics like race, gender, or sexual orientation, you are making decisions about the content they see—content that may marginalize one group in favor of another.

How to do dark ads right
Just because some people have used dark ads to spread harmful messaging, they do not have to be used that way. To avoid the pitfalls of dark ads, mindfully consider your audience. When conducting online advertising through dark ads, you are adding content to people’s feeds who did not necessarily ask for it, so it is important to remember that you could be seen as intruding into their space.

To prevent annoying or misleading your customers, always remember that dark ads are a great way to reduce the number of ads your potential customers see, not increase them. Because you can target specific groups and A/B test your messages, you don’t have to blast your ads to huge swaths of the user population. You can pick segments and only send specific people content they want to see. If you use dark ads to help your customers find positive things that matter to them, you are using dark ads for good.

Get expert help
Advertising tools by companies like Facebook and LinkedIn have gotten very advanced and easy to use, but it can still be difficult to figure out how to pinpoint the types of users you want to target in an ethical way. On top of that, if you are managing social media posts on several platforms, the work required to constantly update your online advertising, analyze your responses, and reply to customer comments can get overwhelming. It can be helpful to reach out to experts to help with both strategy and ongoing maintenance.

At Mad Hat Maven, we are social media and online advertising aficionados. We love marketing. We are good at it, and we want to help you do it better. Contact us today to learn how targeted online advertising could expand your customer base and improve your brand.

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