Facebook’s Chief Creative Officer: Advertising Is Not ‘Tangential’ To The Experience

Despite the grueling news cycle and string of roiling controversies over the last few years, how Facebook tells its story to marketers hasn’t changed much since its early days, according to Mark D’Arcy, Facebook’s VP of global business marketing and its chief creative officer.

“Even before I joined, the story went like this: When you get in front of people, you have to create something of value,” he said. “That’s true no matter what is happening or what the creative canvas is.”

And on that front, big marketers can pick up a few clues from the little guys.

“Small and medium-sized businesses are doing really interesting things with creative on our platform, and that’s because they’re deeply focused making sure that every dollar they spend with us works,” D’Arcy said. “Large marketers can learn a lot from them about the need for relentless iteration.”

D’Arcy, who’s been at Facebook for nearly nine years, oversees the creative quality for Facebook’s own brands and for the millions of marketers large and small using its platforms. He works directly with CMO Antonio Lucio and reports to CRO David Fischer.

AdExchanger spoke with D’Arcy.

AdExchanger: In light of all the recent event cancelations due to the new coronavirus, including multiple Facebook events, are there alternative ways in which Facebook plans to meet with its community of marketers and developers?

MARK D’ARCY: Right now we’re focused on slowing the spread of the outbreak itself, but you’ll hear more from us in the coming weeks. When it comes to marketers and other partners, we’re looking at ways we can use our services to bring people together, share information and collaborate on projects.

Currently, my team is furiously working to create a virtual event called “UnSummit” to replace our large-scale annual sales conference, which was canceled due to concerns about the coronavirus, and we are thinking about similar ways to help serve partners and industry events that are in the same situation.

How do you strike a balance between monetization and the user experience across Facebook?

The vast majority of businesses, around 140 million, use our free services every month, and only a small percentage invest in our advertising products. We work very hard to make businesses a natural part of the experience. In terms of monetization, we’ve always had the very simple goal of making sure that the advertising is as relevant and rewarding as the other things you see.

The idea of advertising being tangential to the experience – that is not how we look at it. And when we get it right, it works really well.

Maybe you’ve gotten too good at it. The idea that Facebook listens in on people’s conversations continues to persist.

There is an industrywide issue related to the extraordinary power of personalization. That is why we have tools for transparency and control, so people can see how their data is being used and do something about it.

Where does the inspiration come from for new creative formats? Cynics might say that Facebook has an unofficial, and unwilling, R&D lab in Santa Monica, which is where Snap has its headquarters.

Something we’ve always done, even back when we first introduced the news feed followed by ads in the news feed and then the invention of Canvas, is to look at how people are engaging before we design anything.

A good example of that is our interactive ad formats. It became clear that people wanted a lighter-touch way to connect and give feedback through our ad surfaces, and now we’re doing this in multiple ways.

Facebook has more than 8 million paid advertisers. Small and medium-sized businesses make up a huge portion of that. Why is Facebook so focused on SMBs?

At their best, Facebook and Instagram have the ability to make all businesses feel like big businesses, because the surface is the same for everyone. You show up in the same context, whether you’ve got $20 or a lot of money. We like leveling the playing field.

Facebook used to talk a lot about dynamic creative optimization, less so recently. Are you still as bullish on DCO?

The test I have for something like dynamic creative optimization from a creative standpoint is always: Is the work you’re putting in worth the value you’re getting out of it? Anything you do needs to be useful for people and not just be for the sake of it.

In general, marketers need to embrace the concept of creating more creative assets, though, rather than less, dynamic or otherwise.

For more than a year now, Facebook CFO Dave Wehner has been warning investors about ad targeting-related headwinds. With less data available for targeting, ads might become less valuable to marketers. Do marketers have questions for you about this?

People are demanding more privacy, and we’re committed to providing that and giving better transparency into how our business works. To flip the question, I think the industry overall has to do a better job of explaining the benefits that personalized advertising can have for people.

Will creative become more important as the cookie finally crumbles?

In general, there will be a higher burden to develop something that will engage a more diverse audience, to develop creative with more universal appeal.

But no matter what happens, creativity remains an integral part of unlocking the value of technology. We don’t have the right to market to people – we have the opportunity – and people have the power to dismiss you with a flick of their thumb or a turn of their head. Marketers need to remember that.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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