Creepy? eBay deploys real time and personal advertising on Facebook

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TR True ReligionThis weekend I was poking around the True Religion brand jeans web site. True Religion jeans fit me really well, so I have a few pair. They are expensive, so I tend to wait for a sale to pull the trigger on a new pair.

I noticed a particular model called Men’s Ricky on the Road Jean but the retail price of $395 was way more than I’d spend. So I popped over to eBay and searched on “Men’s Ricky on the Road Jean” to see if there were any on offer there at a lower price. There were, but I didn't buy on eBay.

eBay remembers

True Religion on pageThe next morning on Facebook was a personalized ad from eBay sitting on my homepage as a “Suggested Post”. The text: “Still Interested? Don’t miss out on this item!” And there was a photo of the jeans I was interested in the day before!

Wow. Talk about real-time personalized targeting. I’m on eBay and look at a very specific item. The next day an ad for that exact item pops up within a social network I'm in.

I've seen many examples of ads appear based on sites I had recently visited and Google searches I have made. But the ads tended to be much more generic. This was a first for me to see an eBay search I made get re-deployed as an in-context ad within Facebook targeted down to an image of the thing I was looking for.

The creepiness factor

Some people will find this sort of thing creepy. There are all sorts of privacy aspects at play here. You can imagine all sorts of scenarios, right? Imagine searching on something very personal on eBay and then the next day showing your spouse or child something on Facebook and eBay pops up your private search result into your stream. Embarrassing!

I’m not a Facebook privacy setting expert. Does anyone know if you can change Facebook settings to control this kind of advertising? The bottom line with free social networking services is that they are not free, right? Everything we do on the web is tracked and can be used somehow.

Our world has been heading to this level of targeting for a long time. Things get so personal as to be almost scary.

As a marketer, I can see lots of use for this as a tool for generating attention. As a salesperson, there are ways you could use such a thing to target a prospect in interesting ways. Imagine a B2B salesperson inserting an ad into someone's Facebook stream who just downloaded a specific white paper.

But with the power comes responsibility.