Marketers Search for Alternatives as Meta Changes Teen Targeting Rules 

Brands anticipate working with more third-party data firms and creators 

Meta’s choice to cut precise targeting toward teens on Facebook and Instagram has some marketers anticipating reducing spend as they search for alternative methods. This includes using more third-party data firms and creators.

The platform announced that starting in February, advertisers can no longer target teens by gender. Additionally, teens’ interactions on the apps, such as posts they’ve liked, would no longer inform the ads they see. The only attributes marketers can use with the demographic, defined as those between 13-17 years old in most countries, are location and age. In 2021, Meta began restricting marketers’ ability to target teens by interests or activity on other apps and websites.

Young people, including those under 18, are a coveted demographic for marketers hoping to form early bonds with today’s trendsetters and benefit from their $360 billion in disposable income, per a November 2021 Bloomberg report. In recent years, Instagram itself has devoted nearly all its marketing budget to targeting teens mostly via digital advertising, The New York Times reported in 2021. A spokesperson at the time denied the claim but said teens were an important part of the company’s marketing strategy.

Several marketers interviewed by Adweek said they don’t target teens, in part due to their lack of control over financial decisions. But for those that do, Meta’s changes could make the platform a less useful advertising tool. 

“I anticipate a reduction in spend, allocated to other social platforms and partners that specialize in contextual targeting,” said Ashley Karim-Kincey, vp of media at full-service creative agency Dagger. Around 5% of campaigns target teens, she said. 

Meta’s new teen policy is the latest in a slew of changes to its targeting regime, which have at times rankled its advertiser customer base. Some, like the changes around teens, reflect Meta listening to outside advocacy groups: Meta prohibited targeting by political affiliation, race, religion and health causes in 2021. Since then, some political advertisers have pulled back from the platform, while health care firms have had to find new privacy-safe alternatives. Meta’s targeting ability has also been curtailed by Apple’s privacy changes, which has led to a pullback from some advertisers seeking more efficiency and precision. 

Leaning on third-party data

With fewer data points available to reach the right teens, Karim-Kincey said the firm is relying more on third-party data sets from firms like Nielsen and Claritas, though it’s not as efficient. 

“By removing targeting attributes we are forced to either water down our message to reach the masses or partner with audience segmentation partners (at the expense of hard-working dollars),” she said. 

Advertisers’ inability to target based on teens’ interest is a bigger loss than losing the ability to target by gender, said Bryan O’Loughlin, senior director of paid social at agency Empower.

“In instances where advertisers are trying to reach niche communities of teenagers, they still have the opportunity via influencer partnerships,” he said, adding that TikTok is also a powerful channel to reach teens.

If Meta removed these attributes for more age groups, advertisers might end up wasting money targeting customers unlikely to make a purchase, said Andrew Sandoval, vp of biddable at digital agency Croud, which avoids targeting teens.

But Meta’s algorithms are designed to find the best customers no matter how advertisers design campaigns. A cooking-related brand spending $50,000 to target 30 million 25-34-year-olds is a much better investment than spending the same amount to target 50,000 cooking enthusiasts, since more granular targeting is more expensive. Going hyper-specific might mean you miss users who are looking for knives, but not interested in cooking.

“Meta will take it where it needs to go to find the right audience,” Sandoval said. 

Brand marketing and contextual

Some marketers argue that capturing the hearts and minds of teenagers should be done solely through brand marketing, not targeted advertising, as teens aren’t the ones making purchasing decisions.

“This is the classic distinction between the decision maker and the transactor,” said Loch Rose, chief analytics officer at Epsilon, a data firm that doesn’t offer teen targeting. “That’s one reason household messaging is used for it … you have the potential to reach both.”

And since younger people are thought to be particularly hostile to advertising, organic and contextual advertising should be the cornerstone, with paid just as a complement, said Harley Block, co-founder of consultancy IF7, adding that younger people can influence buying decisions.

“An ad is not something that you asked for. It’s not elective,” he said, whereas with organic content, “you’re integrating into an experience they’re already doing.”