N.W.A. in the late 1980s. Three different versions of the marketing campaign for the band’s biopic Straight Outta Compton appeared on Facebook: one for white audiences, one for black audiences, and one for Hispanic audiences. (credit: EMI)
If you saw a trailer for Straight Outta Compton on Facebook, it was targeted at you based on your race—or, at least, based on what Facebook thinks is your race. People identified by the company as white, black, or Hispanic were shown different versions of the trailer. This is part of Facebook’s new “ethnic affiliation” marketing, which effectively resembles racial profiling with a big data advertising twist.
Universal digital marketing exec Doug Neil described the race-based marketing for Straight Outta Compton at South by Southwest. Business Insider sums it up:
Neil credited part of [the film’s success] to a specialized Facebook marketing effort led by Universal’s “multicultural team” in conjunction with its Facebook team. They created tailored trailers for different segments of the population….The “general population” (non-African American, non-Hispanic) wasn’t familiar with N.W.A., or with the musical catalog of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, according to Neil. They connected to Ice Cube as an actor and Dr. Dre as the face of Beats, he said. The trailer marketed to them on Facebook had no mention of N.W.A. but sold the movie as a story of the rise of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.
The trailer marketed to African Americans was completely different. Universal assumed this segment of the population had a baseline familiarity with N.W.A. “They put Compton on the map,” Neil said. This trailer opens with the word N.W.A. and continues to lean on it heavily throughout.
The two trailers aren’t just mildly different—they look like they’re advertising two completely different films. The version for white users, below, comes across like a gangster movie. It emphasizes the violence of the group, showing them brandishing semi-automatics, clashing with police, and walking through what appear to be riots. We only see the actors without seeing any of the actual members of N.W.A. who appear in the film. It looks like a scripted drama and not a biography of real people.