Facebook is not listening to phones—ads are just getting smarter

Sep 12, 2019

By James Nord


One of my favorite conspiracy theories is also one I hear most often in my professional life. It's the one where you are talking about a brand or product and open your phone then BOOM! There is an Instagram ad about the exact thing you were talking about.

Somehow people think what must be happening is that Facebook is passively and without your permission listening to your conversations, and then is immediately able to use what they heard to place an ad for that exact product in your feed. 

There are so many reasons this is not true. For instance, how could one of the biggest organizations in the world spy on 3.4 billion people and then sell those capabilities to brands without it ever leaking? Why would they risk a business that makes them $55 billion a year on illegally spying on that population? But I digress. 

What is more interesting to me in each of these stories is what is actually happening. By talking about a brand/product you are more likely to register, notice and remember the next ad you see for it. What is also illuminating about these stories is how easy it is to ignore ads, how of the many hundreds of brand messages you see a day, you only remember and register very few. 

Ads become exponentially more effective when the targeted viewer registers them. You can see this happening in your own life, for example, when you find out about a new brand and then all a sudden you "see that brand everywhere." You're not actually seeing more of the brand than before, it's just that now you’ve been primed and conditioned to notice it. This phenomenon is one of the things that makes influencer marketing so effective. It allows brands to insert themselves into an audience's consciousness more easily through an influencer than through their own advertising, and once implanted, each subsequent ad will be more and more effective.

So next time you think Facebook is listening to your conversation think about how your brain is working and how we can replicate that effect in our campaigns.

This was originally sent as an email on September 4, 2019.

To learn more on how brands can better navigate the influencer space, sign up to Fohr CEO James Nord’s weekly email here.