For marketers looking to sell their wares to millennials and their younger siblings, Gen Z, social media is an indispensable channel.

But according to a new study conducted by Harris Poll for Lithium Technologies, marketers that are using targeted social ads to reach members of these groups may be shooting themselves in the foot.

Harris Poll asked some 2,000 consumers across generations about their use of social and found that nearly three-quarters (74%) took issue with marketers targeting their social feeds.

Most worryingly, over half (56%) said they were cutting back or stopping use of social platforms because of these ads.

These numbers suggest the possibility that by pouring more money into ads that target younger users' social feeds, marketers risk losing them.

According to Lithium Technologies president and CEO Rob Tarkoff:

Pushing out ads on social media is the surest way for brands to alienate consumers, especially the younger generations who make up more than 50% of the population.

The promise of social technologies has always been about connecting people, not shouting at them, and the brands that don’t do this risk their very existence.

But is this really the case? 

Facebook ads have been seen to drive significant sales increases, and for years marketers have found paid ads on popular social platforms to be quite effective.

The world's largest social network, Facebook, has the most mature ad offerings of any of these platforms, and propelled by a growing billion-plus member userbase and higher revenue-per-user, it grew its ad sales by a whopping 57% in the first quarter of 2016.

If younger users, which still make up a considerable portion of Facebook's member ranks, were really alienated by ads and cutting back usage of the service as a result, such gains would be unlikely.

So what gives?

For one, ads that target social feeds, although marked as such, aren't always recognized as ads by users.

And even when they are, because marketers are increasingly upping their content marketing games, there's a chance that the content they're promoting will actually be of interest to users.

Higher CTRs for News Feed ads versus display ads on Facebook are evidence of this.

But there's also another dynamic at work here. Thanks to influencer marketing, companies are targeting users through their social feeds, and in many cases users don't even know it.

What's more: ironically, the very users who say they don't want to be targeted appear to be more receptive to influencer marketing. 

According to the Harris Poll survey, younger generations are far more likely to trust people they follow online and celebrity endorsers than members of Gen X and Baby Boomers.

While influencer marketing campaigns frequently don't use official ad offerings, it's worth considering that when it comes to their social feeds, users simply can't escape being targeted by marketers, whether they like it or not.

And now that algorithms are taking over, there will be fewer and fewer feeds that are free from ads.

So while millennials and members of Gen Z don't want to feel that they're being bombarded with ads on social platforms, the reality is that social ads in all their forms are here to stay and many marketers are finding them to be increasingly effective.

Patricio Robles

Published 13 May, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)

Shobha Ponnappa

Shobha Ponnappa, CEO & Chief Digital Marketing Consultant at

Perfect article at the perfect time - when so much hype is surrounding content and social marketing to the millennials, and social ads. Clearly we're heading for a "vocal new target audience" vs "tenacious marketers" face off. May the best team win!

almost 2 years ago

Corey Zeimen

Corey Zeimen, Owner at Guaranteed PPC

At the end of the day, there is no where to go. If these millennials are going to other social communities, the ads will be there too.

I don't anyone really likes ads, its just no one likes crappy, irrelevant ads.

Moral of the story, if you interrupt someone you better make it good, otherwise you are wasting cash.

almost 2 years ago

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