Advertisers on Facebook can single out profiles of married men who love cats, but what they can't target is Hispanics. Or blacks. Or Asians.
That's not to say social networks can't still arrive at certain conclusions.
When Andrew Speyer got engaged, he and his fiancee didn't change their relationship statuses on Facebook. But after friends started congratulating them with wall posts, ads began popping up offering the services of rabbis that perform interfaith ceremonies. Somehow, Facebook discerned that , unlike him, his fiancee was Jewish, although that wasn't explicit in her profile.
Mr. Speyer, VP-head of strategy at Wing , a Hispanic marketing agency owned by Grey Advertising, feels his experience isn't uncommon. Mention a brand in a status update and watch it appear as a page you might "like." Facebook enables marketers to reach huge population swaths or a segment of fewer than 50 profiles -- about 0.000008% of Facebook users. All planners have to do is toggle through a list of demographic and behavioral variables and watch the pie slice get thinner.
But think about this for a moment: An ad platform created by a millennial originally for other millennials -- the most diverse U.S. generation ever -- accounts for nearly one in three online ad impressions and spans all demographics, but it doesn't ask for your race or ethnicity on your profile. It therefore can't explicitly target in this key way. Nor can MySpace, or LinkedIn or Twitter.
While that might suggest race and ethnicity are no longer important when it comes to targeting a young, socially savvy consumer, that 's not exactly true.