Is Facebook Just Another Ad-Supported Publisher?

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Ad Agents"Ad Agents" is a column written by the agency-side of the digital media community.

Chris Tuleya, vp of Direct Response at Underscore Marketing, a boutique, digital marketing agency

Who am I to criticize a multi-billion dollar company? On the other hand, criticism is the back-bone of the internet, specifically Facebook, so why not…

Facebook has redefined social media as we know it, however that does not necessarily equate to sustainable long-term advertising success. The foundation of social media is that the consumer is in control of how they consume and share information with people they know. This concept is inherently the opposite of the advertising model that comes with a platform like Facebook.

Sure, at first Facebook advertising was the shiny object du jour, but shiny objects tarnish over time. As we all know, when someone is aware they are looking at an ad, shields go up, regardless of how compelling the offer might be. They might be slightly more relevant than other display ads, but that advantage disappeared when Facebook plastered them all over the site.. If there's a competitor that Facebook ought to take cues from, though, it's Google.

Google has built their empire around providing relevant ads to the world. Go ask someone outside of our industry to identify what element on a search engine results page is an ad. They all are! Each site we visit has a purpose for being. Some make money through sales and others on impressions. So why are people ok with going to a website where the entire page is essentially filled with ads?

Because Google provides relevant listings, fulfills a need, and does not intrude on the consumer's reason for visiting. With maybe one or two minor exceptions, search is the only media channel where people line up, waiting to be served an ad. While Facebook can't claim the same, they can still learn a few things.

Relevance and intrusion are two key variables that Facebook must balance when approaching their advertising model. It's nice to capture advertisers who have deep pockets and chase them to help drive your bottom line, but are these the brands that consumers want to engage with inside their social sphere? Consumers are savvy and know when they are being sold to. You cannot force engagement, just like you cannot force someone to search. If you have a good product that people want to engage with they will engage with it.

The other lesson that can be gleaned from Google concerns intrusion. Consumers use Facebook on their own terms and they do not want to be pulled away until they are ready. Getting someone to ‘Like' a page solves half of this problem by allowing them to follow a brand's feed without interrupting their experience. But what is the value of this ‘Like' to the brand? Facebook, much like Google, is not concerned with that question and can't help guide brands on answering it. They help deliver the right people to the brand and are not responsible for how they engage with it afterward. Only the brand can determine the true value of a ‘Like'.

Facebook ads that drive consumers out of their platform have the same challenge that publishers everywhere face - people aren't clicking. But what if you brought the outside site into Facebook? What if the brand's site appeared in parallel with the various social elements, without completely pulling the consumer away?

GM, who made headlines last week announcing that they are going to stop running Facebook ads because 'they do not sell cars' is an perfect example of misguided blame. I cannot speak to the odd timing of such an announcement given they don't regularly update the world on the other ad buys that don't work, but I can speak to who I think is really at fault here. Facebook, like any publisher, does not claim to be the magic bullet for all advertisers. In fact, all Facebook is doing is providing a platform for which advertisers can intersect a relevant audience with their message. GM is claiming Facebook doesn't sell cars, however, they have not provided specifics around their target audience or what the objective of this campaign was (it can't be direct sales; GM doesn't have an ecommerce site). Making a global statement that Facebook advertising doesn't work is likely a reflection of their Facebook strategy and not necessarily the viability of the Facebook platform. This announcement should be taken with a grain of salt by everyone in the industry. I can personally speak to having run many successful Facebook advertising campaigns and find it hard to believe that GM couldn't convert enough visitors to offset the costs of their campaign with such high price point items. But without specifics around what they were doing it is hard to say how they could have done it better, but I am confident they could have.

There is no question that Facebook has many of the pieces to become the next Google of the digital advertising world, but they are playing in uncharted waters and need to be creative to avoid becoming just another ad-supported publisher.

Ad Agents"Ad Agents" is a column written by the agency-side of the digital media community.

Follow Underscore Marketing (@_MarketingLLC) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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