How Facebook Ads Could Really Click

Please note… this was written in 2008. It is still (even perhaps more) relevant today. The facts are out of date (note the pre-Timeline mockups and early “engagement ads”) but the core idea remains solid.

Facebook is doing it half right.

Facebook should make building a compelling social media platform based on the unique and powerful idea of weaving advertising into social interactions and conversations HALF their job.

They should make the OTHER HALF about making it possible for advertisers to get more noticed in general — and focus on some more core concepts of DISPLAY advertising.

Because no matter how socially relevant an ad is … if you can’t see it you can’t click on it!

An actual ad (on the left) and an ad you could actually see (on the right)

If they focus on the whole deal, Facebook could ultimately become a really interesting — and truly new kind of — media property. Right now it’s a property, but not a media property. From the perspective of advertisers Facebook is undeveloped land (though there is A LOT of it).  When Facebook figures out how to let advertisers take advantage, it will become a media property. And from the perspective of investors then, Facebook’s abundant traffic will be “monetized”.

A Digital Version of Cheers
Facebook, like many “social platforms’ is a digital version of  Cheers — not the show many people used to watch on TV (that was a media property!) but the bar the show was based on. In Facebook everybody does know your name. Not all of Facebook’s gazillion active users know your name, of course, but the 20 or 60 or 400 you hang out with inside know your name, know what you’re doing right now, know who your other friends are, know what you’re reading and sharing, know the last comment you made to another friend. They know a lot.. as if you were all sitting around a bar, having a drink and talking. And this bar-room get-together (or dinner party if you prefer) can happen in real time or over time — usually a combination of both as different members are around and cross with each other at different times.

This “social platform” is not unusual now. Many sites offer means for a bunch of friends or colleagues to interact in real time or over time. What IS unusual is that Facebook is trying to create a new form of media to sell that leverages this — to become a social media property.

Facebook’s Innovations Are Important … Most Companies Abdicate to Google
It is very good that Facebook is taking on the important and difficult work of creating a new media platform to go along with the new media they offer. So many other web 2.0 companies abdicate this.. they don’t invest in turning their compelling properties into compelling media properties. They drop in a few lines of code from Google, use Google’s ad technologies, and  get some revenue flowing in — but develop no real value beyond their traffic.

With any new medium this is a tricky business. A balancing act between outright, short-term revenue maximization and a respect for the overall experience and long-term value of a consumer — or viewer, user, end-user, member … pick your term.  (BTW.. one of the smartest people to articulate the need for the balancing act is indeed an architect of online search advertising. Check out Tim Cadogan at Monaco Media Forum here.)

If Facebook Succeeds the Net Result Will Be a Totally New Form of Advertising
Facebook hasn’t had the easiest time with this.. But don’t write them off.. they are iterating, testing, trying… And if they figure it out,  the net result WILL actually be a totally new form of advertising.

Facebook’s Engagement Ads Create Micro Tiger Woodses (Or Whatever the Plural Is!)
Facebook is now (literally now.. if you are a Facebook user you are just just starting to see them) rolling out a form of advertising they call “Engagement Advertising.” This is a smart name because it incorporates the biggest idea being bandied about in ad circles now — how to engage with customers. So they have got the jargon/naming bit down.

Another Engagement Ad... for Papa Johns Pizza. Here you can see it in context.. above my events and birthdays. BTW happy birthday Yee, Ben, and Aubrey.
An "Engagement Ad" ... for Papa Johns Pizza. This one lets Facebook members become a fan of a brand. This fact can show up in their profile, and therefore spreads across their network of friends who can comment on this fact. This actually generates a proto-form of a measurable "brand conversation".

These ads so-far take a few forms. They let members become a fan of brand — a fact that (if a member allows) becomes known to members’ friends — essentially inviting friends to become fans too. This tying of advertising to conversations is interesting and potentially powerful. People with social influence who associate themselve with a brand become de-facto endorsers. This works on a grand scale for, say, Tiger Woods who influences millions. Why shouldn’t it work on a micro scale too. Let’s say I have two or three people who  find my taste/way/life somehow interesting … if I associate with a brand, I bring along a few others with me.

And They Have Wicked-Smart Targeting
Add to this idea the fact that Facebook has one of the most interesting targeting systems for online advertising already. Their hyper-hyper targeting means it is possible to serve unique ads based on where people work, what their major in college was, etc. This level of targeting might not be valuable to all advertisers today — but it presents some powerful means for near “total-personalization” of ads.

Fadebook? But… And This Is Soooo Basic…. The Ads Are Shy… They Tend To Fade-To-Back … It’s Like Facebook Is Embarrassed By Them. Advertising Can’t Be Shy.

This is not a good formula. Right now, all Facebook ads are very, basically, hidden away. That is an exaggeration, of course. But they ARE tough to see/notice. No matter how targeted or social they are.. Facebook needs to make it possible to create more visual ads.  RULE ONE about advertising  is standing out — and Facebook needs to let people create ads that will actually pop out of the page. Because Facebook’s content is so compelling (highly personal information about one’s friends and colleagues) the ads need to be even more compelling. Facebook should allow for larger, richer, more compelling ad units.

Imagine a fantastically media rich ad experience backed by:

-targeting (of any sort.. behavioral, contextual, semantic, demographic)

– social .. allow users to become a fan, comment, etc.

– interactive.. Make the woman standing on the bottle move around the screen. Make her interact (visually, audibly…) with the interactions members are having with their friends.

Now you’re talking a new media platform!


This “house ad” from Facebook’s ad team appears regularly when I login to Facebook. I guess I DO have some advice for them : -)

Thanks Facebook.. but actually you could use some advice

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