The word FAN (our unofficial acronym, not Facebook’s) has been redfined! Facebook, the social media giant that has already made a large dent in the mobile ad ecosystem, today showed it has no plans to stop the momentum: Welcome Audience Network!
Before today, there were already several factors working in Facebook’s favor: its reach among avid social users, its engaged and captive audience, and its trove of affinity data. After its Audience Network announcement today, Facebook is breaking the application of its tools and its data out of its own silo, and this could benefit several players:
- Other developers and publishers could make more money by offering Facebook data-infused mobile ads.
- Developers can make money without having to sell their own ads, do their own targeting, handle measurement, or route payments. Facebook will take care of it all. Developers can integrate a tiny bit of code to run FAN in banner ads, or they can work directly with Facebook to create native ad units that feel like a natural part of their user experience.
- Advertisers can dip into Facebook’s rich affinity data to target their ads across other mobile properties.
- And of course, Facebook itself just extended its potential revenue base and faces a new competitive set with the likes of Google AdMob and MillenialMedia.
What could make this Audience Network important in the mobile ad world? It has the potential to execute against the integrated formats and personalized targeting required for mobile ads to succeed. Specifically, it touches on both by:
- Offering the option for a better ad format experience. While standard ads are still offered, and we all know customers don’t love (or even like, or even tolerate) them, Facebook announced it will also allow developers and publishers to offer customizable native ad formats to be filled through the network. If developers and publishers go with these native ad formats – they could boost that mobile user’s ad experience and see results.
- Providing data for more personalized targeting. We all know this by now: Mobile tracking and targeting is tough today, yet your customers expect a high degree of relevancy and personalization in all of their mobile experiences – including their experience with ads. Facebook was succeeding with its mobile ads in large part because it had unique login and rich affinity data that it could use to target ads and boost ad relevancy. Applying this affinity data to more mobile ads now across apps? Big potential.
We see a lot of opportunity here for Facebook in the mobile ad tech space, but the jury is still out as we wait to see this in action. Still to be seen from the ad experience side: How many marketers will take advantage of custom ad formats to reduce disruption. And how customized and tailored will (and can) these ads get. Still to be seen from the data side: How can this data be integrated with other data sources to create true personalization? Will this data bring in the ad results worth the cost for marketers? And, will these ads bring in enough results for developers and publishers to give Facebook a piece of their revenues? And then there are other industry players out there working on native ads, dynamic customization, and enhanced mobile targeting, so the end result here for the mobile ad tech industry is to be decided.
Eventually Facebook plans to expand FAN to serve businesses with other marketing objectives, perhaps including website traffic or ecommerce purchases. Existing Facebook advertisers can start pushing their ads to Audience Network with a single click since they use the same creative as News Feed Ads. FAN will be available through all of Facebook’s ad interfaces and the Ads API. Facebook says to expect some variable performance at first.
The ads come in three formats: standard IAB banners, standard IAB interstitials, and native ad units. Facebook says the ads are “designed to help marketers meet key business objectives, like driving app installs and engagement.”
To protect users, Facebook’s Audience Network policies say publishers can only show one ad on the screen at a time. Publishers can’t disguise the ads in their interface, place them over buttons to score accidental clicks, or make clicking them the only way to exit a screen. Facebook notes that by integrating the Facebook SDK or working with a measurement partner, advertisers can track engagements and conversions driven by FAN ads, plus demographic info and other stats about their audience. Publishers can filter what categories of ads appear in their apps, so they can reject health, gambling or financial services ads but allow ones for food, education, or gaming companies. As for privacy, some users may not be excited about having their Facebook data travel around the mobile app-sphere to target them with ads. Facebook Audience Network doesn’t actually give advertisers or publishers people’s personal data, it just serves them ads that match. However, if users want to opt out, they can. On iOS go to Settings->Privacy->Advertising and enable “Limit Ad Tracking”. On Android, go to Google Settings and opt out of interest tracking in the Advertising ID options.
Monetizing Data, Not Eyeballs
Facebook first tested it mobile ad network in 2012, but paused it soon after to focus on its own native ads. At the time, the mobile ad network didn’t earn much money for Facebook because it merely a targeting layer that sat on top of their ad networks that also took a cut.
In September 2013 Facebook rebooted the tests, but instead of a layer it had evolved to be a full fledged ad network that works directly with advertisers and publishers. This lets Facebook earn a higher margin. COO Sheryl Sandberg said the ad network tests “show a lot of promise and we’ve gotten good feedback from marketers” on Facebook’s recent Q1 2014 earnings call.
Here’s the first official look at Facebook’s mobile ad network.
The product will compete with other ad networks like InMobi. However, FAN will not compete with mediation services Twitter’s MoPub. Instead, it can tap into it to simultaneously show ads from FAN and other ad networks. While it may take a few quarters for FAN to spin up, it could become a serious source of revenue for Facebook. The launch represents a big shift in how Facebook’s business works, from monetizing engagment on its own properties to earning money from its ad targeting data elsewhere. Until now, Facebook’s revenue has essentially been directly proportional to how many ads it showed in the News Feed and how many users visited. The ad network will let it grow revenue without cluttering its own site and apps with more ads. That’s a more sustainable model that insulates Facebook from competition or a slow down of its own user engagement.