Universal Pictures and Facebook teamed up to create custom trailers for white audiences to promote the N.W.A. film Straight Outta Compton, scrubbing any mention of the rap group and instead focusing on the rise of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Universal marketing chief Doug Neil and Jim Underwood, Facebook's head of entertainment, discussed the partnership on a SXSW panel today in Austin and described the film's success as a victory for race-specific marketing, according to Business Insider.
The reasoning behind showing white Facebook users a different trailer was the demographic's lack of expertise on rap history, according to Neil. "They connected to Ice Cube as an actor and Dr. Dre as the face of Beats," he said, using the phrase "general population" when speaking about non-African American and non-Hispanic viewers. So Universal's "multicultural team," as it's called, worked with the social network to cut and serve a unique trailer that would detail the two men's rise without tying it to N.W.A. The trailer shown to African American Facebook users, Neil added, opened with the word N.W.A. and prominently highlighted the group's Compton beginnings. "They put Compton on the map," he said. Universal also showed a special trailer to Hispanic Facebook users that displayed words in Spanish on the screen.
"They connected to Ice Cube as an actor and Dr. Dre as the face of Beats."
Facebook doesn't let users identify based on race. Instead, the company looks for identifiers, starting with simple ones like language preference and onward to which pages you've liked and other more specific actions on the social network. That said, the company is only able to target ads based on what the user has shown an interest in seeing, which is not necessarily indicative of that person's race.
Although it failed to earn an Oscar nomination for anything other than its screenplay, Straight Outta Compton became a hit, grossing more than $200 million at the box office. It's unclear how much of an impact tailored Facebook trailers had on the film's performance, as it's a bit dubious to assume the "general population" has never heard of N.W.A. That said, Facebook's ability to do targeted marketing and Universal's willingness to use it shows just how filtered the social network can become as a source of information and even entertainment.
Update at 9:55PM ET, Thursday, March 17th: Clarified that Facebook does not let users self-identify based on race. So ads are targeted based only on information it infers from profiles and what users have shown an interest in.
Update at 10:19PM ET, Thursday. March 17th: Clarified the headline to reflect the fact that Facebook cannot target ads based on race.
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