Dark advertising allows a publisher to send different adverts to different target audience groups where it would be disadvantageous for the audience of one target group to see the adverts intended for another. This increases the success rate of the publisher's advertising campaign.
This form of advertising is commonly found on online social media platforms that make target group identification possible. Groups can be identified using age based targeting, geotargeting, behavioural targeting and more recently psychographic targeting, among others.
In July 2012, the social network Facebook added the ability to create unpublished posts. These could be sponsored, citing "page posts usually contain information that are relevant to only a segment of the page's audience". The term "Dark Advertising" was coined by marketing professionals shortly after and has been used in the media ever since.
In May 2017 a group of activists formed the Who Targets Me project, collecting data on how political campaigns used dark advertising during the United Kingdom general election, 2017 and calling for an end to dark advertising on Facebook.
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