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The Breakdown: Facebook removing Special Ad Audiences on October 12, 2022

Danny Lopez Team Photo
Danny LopezSenior Marketing Director, Paid Social

Facebook recently announced in an email that they would be removing a category of audience targeting called “Special Ad Audiences” on October 12, 2022.

The removal of these audiences will directly impact advertisers limited by housing, credit and employment (HEC) restrictions. As a result, businesses involved in areas like lending, credit, banking, employment and other financial services will need to change their targeting approach on Facebook Ads ASAP.

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In this article, we’ll summarize the announcement from Facebook, discuss the implications for HEC-restricted businesses and how you can adapt your targeting strategy going forward.

What are Special Ad Audiences?

Facebook introduced Special Ad Audiences in 2019 as an alternative to Lookalike Audiences to let advertisers expand their audiences for ad campaigns related to housing, employment, and credit ads.

The ad format was designed to avoid targeting users based on HEC-restricted information like age, ad gender, along with restricted demographics, behaviors or interests.

What Facebook announced about Special Ad Audiences

In an email Facebook sent on July 28, 2022, they mentioned they had reached an agreement with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to sunset Special Ad Audiences.

This action was in response to criticisms about the fairness of Facebook’s personalized ad algorithms from civil rights groups, policymakers and regulators. While Facebook’s discussions with HUD had focused on personalized housing ads specifically, they opted to sunset Special Ad Audiences globally for use in employment and credit ads as well.

They also revealed the following timeline for advertisers using the audience feature:

  • Starting August 25, 2022, Facebook will begin this process by removing the ability to create new Special Ad Audiences.
  • Beginning September 13, 2022, Facebook will remove the Marketing API ability to create new ad campaigns leveraging existing Special Ad Audiences.
  • Special Ad Audiences created before August 25, 2022 can continue to be used in new campaigns until **October 12, 2022 in Ads Manager only.

Finally, they recommended some steps advertisers could take to prepare.

Beginning August 25, 2022, Facebook will provide notifications within Ads Manager about which of your ad sets will need to be adjusted, with prompts to review and update your targeting options. They recommended you review your ad sets before August 25, 2022 and begin to update targeting where possible.

Prior to October 12, 2022, they recommended reviewing and updating targeting options for any campaigns continuing to use Special Ad Audiences to prevent ad sets being paused.

The impact and recommendations for HEC advertisers

The good news for many of our clients at WebMechanix is that we don’t leverage Special Ad Audiences. Therefore, this update will not impact our housing, employment, or credit space campaigns.

For quite some time now, we have adopted a “broad” strategy across almost all of our Facebook Ads campaigns. This means that our ad sets have no “targeting” at all, and we can potentially target all Facebook users.

This might seem counterintuitive, but I can assure you that it’s not (if you know how to leverage Facebook’s algorithm).

How HEC advertisers can win by “going broad”

If you are optimizing for your campaigns for raw form submissions, chances are that going broad is not going to work for you. That’s because not all leads are created equal – and only certain leads will look like your ideal customer.

Before we upload a single ad on Facebook, we first do a deep dive into a client’s data and look for indicators of quality (which we’ve affectionately dubbed “IoQ’s”). Is there something your best customers all have in common? If so, that’s a question you should be asking on your form.

We recently did a deep dive for a client and found out that users who own a car are more likely to enroll in their program. Bingo! We now have a great question to ask on our form. If a user does not own a car, then we are not going to fire our conversion event in Facebook. Facebook’s algorithm will pick up on this and optimize for users who own a car.

More broad targeting approaches for smart HEC advertising

Another way to take advantage of board targeting is by integrating your CRM with Facebook’s conversion API (CAPI).

Facebook recommends that ad sets have at least 50 conversions per week in order to optimize properly and will only record a conversion if it happened within 7-days of the last click. Based on these criteria, Closed Won deals might not be the best funnel step to send back to Facebook. So we’ll want to look higher up in the sales funnel to find the right spot to optimize for.

Going broad does not mean that Facebook will find you unqualified prospects. It means that Facebook has a broad enough pool of people to find you the most qualified prospects. Facebook has over 50,000 data points on all of its users, and it will use those data points to find more users who look like your customers – as long as you send the correct signals back.

The bottom line on Special Ad Audiences

The elimination of Special Ad Audiences is a threat for HEC-restricted digital advertisers still stuck in the “old” model of granular audience targeting.

But for advertisers that are willing to embrace automation and learn how to train the algorithms on the data that can actually drive the business they want – this is a massive opportunity.

In our opinion, the removal of Special Ad Audiences is a win for both civil rights and smart advertisers. If you are still reliant on Special Ad Audiences, don’t feel bad – but now is the time to make the switch to a smarter and more powerful broad strategy.

And if you need help making this transition for your Facebook Ads account? Contact WebMechanix today to get an audit and roadmap from experts who have already taken other HEC-restricted accounts where you need to be.

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