Facebook Might Be Talking About Itself Incorrectly

At this year’s IAB Mixx conference Facebook took a noteworthy stance about the approach marketers should have today when it comes to advertising on the social network. The message? Facebook’s social ads work just like TV.

“Just like in TV, people consume the message, and then when they go to the store, they are more likely to consume your product. It’s proof that the click is not the right thing to optimize to.”

– Brad Smallwood, Facebook’s head of measurement and insights

It’s no secret that click thru rates on Facebook fall behind other online channels.  (And there’s even been talk that there could be a bot problem with some of the clicks that do happen.) While Sponsored Stories have shown to vastly improve CTRs—especially on mobile—those rates still lag behind other digital alternatives. DC media tracking has seen first-hand this overall pattern of activity.

However, one area where we’ve been most impressed with Facebook’s results are the delivered impressions. A combination of effective targeting with manageable prices have enabled Facebook to serve as a strong part of an online plan despite its lower CTRs.

So in this sense, as a driver of impressions, it is indeed like TV.

And yet, it’s not.

TV is a storytelling medium complete with sight, sound and motion, a far cry from the uninspired, static, column-image-text ads of Facebook.

If Facebook is going to position themselves alongside mass media channels perhaps there is a more accurate example: Outdoor.

Exploring Facebook is very similar to exploring a city. In the city there are clear places to look as you make your journey—the sidewalk or the road. Outdoor advertising, done well, gets itself involved in the journey through creatively attracting a glance, or these days, perhaps enticing engagement on the go. But we’re on a journey and we don’t necessarily want to be deviated much from it. We can be interrupted as we go, but we’re still going.

Facebook usage is a similar journey. We’re on our way to do something and we’re looking at the middle of the page… What we’re not highly inclined to do is change course right then and shop JC Penney or learn more about Cranberry Splash or buy a Lakers jersey, even though our data says that we like JC Penney, enjoy fruit juice and root for the Lakers. We’re not highly in the mood to “shop” or “learn” or “buy” but we are in the mood to take it all in. Just like a good journey through a city.

The best outdoor advertising quickly informs. It also reminds. Sometimes it delights. But it’s typically intriguing imagery and an inviting message living on the sidelines of our journey. When was the last time a Facebook ad did that?

Interestingly, the most engaging brand posts on Facebook use custom imagery, memes and clever questions. If the social network is now going to be an impression medium shouldn’t the ads do the same?

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