News & Resources

A June 2022 settlement between the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and Meta (formerly Facebook) has resulted in the upcoming October 12 removal of the Special Ad Audience tool from the Meta platform, which has been widely used by advertising agencies to target users with housing ads on Facebook and Instagram. Catalyst closely tracks legislation that may impact any of our services and has been keeping up with the complaint first filed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2018 and monitoring the evolutions and outcomes along the way to position our clients for success. Catalyst fully supports all Fair Housing best practices for marketing and advertising, and has always acted in good faith best efforts to comply and educate our clients accordingly. The following are key points to update you, explain the settlement details, and let you know how Catalyst is responding.

What is the Special Ad Audience tool?

  • The Special Ad Audience tool was created in 2019 as a fairness and anti-discrimination initiative to eliminate specific targeting options for housing, employment, and credit ads, as an alternative to Lookalike Audiences.
  • The Special Ad Audience tool is similar to a Lookalike audience because it uses online behavior similarities from your existing customers to form a new audience with similar interests. However, a Special Ad Audience is adjusted to comply with the audience selection restrictions associated with your campaign’s chosen Special Ad Category. It won’t use targeting information such as age and gender, religion, or demographic data that is restricted by Fair Housing rules.
  • Per this new settlement, the Special Ad Audience tool has been determined to be insufficient in its ability to combat discrimination and to comply with Fair Housing regulations, and Meta has agreed to sunset this tool on October 12, 2022.

How will this affect my ad campaigns?

  • Starting on October 12, 2022, any campaigns set up via the Special Ad Audience tool within a Special Ad Category will pause.
  • New campaigns will be launched that do not utilize the Special Ad Audience tool and instead employ an alternative strategy to achieve brand presence and awareness.
  • At this time, we do not expect the media spend or management fee for Facebook or Instagram to be impacted.

What is Catalyst doing to respond to this change?

  • Similar to the way we adapted from the Lookalike audience tool to the Special Ad Audience tool in 2019, Catalyst has been A/B testing new audience targeting that is compliant with the Fair Housing Act against the current Special Ad Audience to ensure we are aware of impacts and any differences to ad performance in the new environment.
  • We are confident adequate and performant brand awareness will continue to be achieved with alternative targeting that reaches any users within a 15-mile radius who show interest in apartments and various internet listing services such as, Apartment Guide,
  • Catalyst is continually working with our dedicated Meta Specialist to stay up to date on Meta’s evolving methods made available to advertisers to reach qualified prospects for housing ads. Portions of the settlement indicate that Meta must develop a Variance Reduction System, which is a technical label for the AI that is being built to make sure the audience that ends up seeing a housing ad more closely reflects the eligible targeted audience for that ad.

In Meta’s statement about the settlement, they remark, “Discrimination in housing, employment and credit is a deep-rooted problem with a long history in the US, and we are committed to broadening opportunities for marginalized communities in these spaces and others. … This type of work is unprecedented in the advertising industry and represents a significant technological advancement for how machine learning is used to deliver personalized ads.

Catalyst is proud to accept the challenge to continue to advance the work of equality as it concerns housing in a changing technological landscape, while continuing to serve our clients with highly effective and strategic advertising and marketing. We remain committed to our Gold Standard service principles, which include thriving relationships built on clear goals and success definitions, proactive communication, and strategic marketing that drives leads and maximizes ROI.

If you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Thank you for your partnership.


Christy McFerren

Melissa Cornine
VP of Client Servcies