The Evolution Of Display Advertising And What Facebook’s New Update On Audience Network Means For Advertisers

With Audience Network available for mobile browsing, Facebook has opened up for new markets like India which are still dominated by mobile web browsing


Editor’s Note: This is an exclusive guest post from Upasana Roy, Head of Strategy, Digitas Lbi India. Opinions expressed in this post are the author’s personal views.

In a recent announcement, Facebook has opened up their audience network to expand beyond just apps and integrate mobile web. As per their blog update “The Audience Network is now available for mobile web, bringing the value of native ad formats and people-based marketing to a new set of publishers, and enabling 2.5 million Facebook advertisers to reach more of the people they care about on mobile devices.” Which means, advertisers will now have access to a more holistic mobile user base, app plus web, and can target consumers using Facebook’s rich demographic and behaviour data (even outside of Facebook’s interface).

While ‘Display’ has propelled some of the biggest spends in the world of advertising during the last decade, it is also one of the forms of advertising which has been most experimented with. Whereas ‘Search’ has been an “active – real time” solution to a consumer’s requirement; display has always been a device to capture the user’s passive need-states in highly-cluttered spaces. Needless to say, given this very nature of the medium, it has always been more challenging to crack solid display strategies that would seamlessly merge themselves into the consumer’s life and add value to their daily browsing habits.

The evolution of display also saw some hot topics challenging the form through the last decade - with the rise of frauds, bots, cookie based information being confronted and questions being raised about the profitability of the medium – Display has come a long way. Enter new media custom solutions and companies that forayed into the space of display advertising with their own marketing platforms that promised to be the right kind of conduit between publishers, advertisers and consumers.

Display targeting options have evolved at breakneck speed over the last few years and companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest – all forayed into the creation of self-sufficient platforms which minimized the risk of wrong targeting, cross-device attributions and click frauds. These platforms also have mobile at the heart of their operations, which means:

More enriched and more telling data about how consumers are using their devices throughout the day and through their buying cycles; all of which are now available to advertisers at the touch of a button.

Coming to Facebook’s new update on opening up FAN (audience network) to include mobile inventory – has stirred the pot quite a bit more. The concept of Facebook audience network itself was quite alluring, considering it would let advertisers reach any of their consumers with a Facebook account, even when they’re not on Facebook. (In the context of India, that’s pretty much the lion’s share of your consumer base; more than 50% of the internet audience use Facebook and more than 90% access the platform through mobile devices).

But the limitation was their “app only” integration which failed to take into account the millions of Indians who are non-smartphone users, who heavily rely on mobile web browsing. While smartphone adoption in the country is heavily increasing, mobile web consumption is not going away anywhere.

With this latest update, Facebook has pretty much positioned itself as one of the key competitors of the Google Display Network and AdMob. Facebook’s rich behavioural data would be able to counter and really match up to Google’s audience targeting data, which is still pretty much hinged on interests and not on actual user behaviour, (which can be sometimes argued as unreliable by niche categories).

Plus, while the Google Display Network owns this space on Desktop sites, Facebook has a real play to own Mobile sites, primarily because of their inherent focus on mobile (and the availability of a wider range of consumer data which is much more reliable and usable). Also, the integration functionality has been kept simple, quite perceptively of course. Only an HTML tag/pixel is needed and no SDK integration is required which makes it easier to adopt by a wide range of publishing partners starting from premium inventory owners to even long tail publishers.

What should advertisers watch out for

More testing and learning: Everyone would want to at least test it out, and success will depend on how well Facebook can map interest data with demographic data; and how well advertisers and agencies are able to target specific audience sets and track results. Both are equally important. With the re-emergence and adoption of native advertising it will be interesting to see how deftly advertisers are able to integrate their communication with consumer browsing behaviour and create powerful storytelling integrations.

We know that strategies that are designed from a real mobile-first philosophy can influence and stimulate a sense of personalization that today’s new age consumer expects to see when they are immersed in the captive mobile environment and this is truly the time when the ad spend needle will move in a more revenue-positive space (and we all know that high-quality, engaging content that earns more clicks can actually cost you way less and give you much better ROI).

More ad spends driven by mobile: Television, the current dominant advertising medium, with a 38% share of total ad-spend in 2015 is forecasted to be replaced by the internet in 2018 as the single largest advertising medium. We are already aware of the avalanche of smartphone usage in the country - Lifted by the ever-growing sales, it is projected that India is all set to become the world’s second largest smartphone market by 2017, overtaking US. Chinese vendors have tripled their shipments year on year, in India and doubled quarter-on-quarter. Lenovo, Xiaomi, Huawei and Gionee alone accounted for 12% of the total smartphone market in June, 2015 (which is almost double from a year ago).

The stage is set for increased share of ad spends on mobile devices and at this time it is imperative for a new age marketer to understand the mobile advertising space and truly create strategies that are not only mobile first, but also mobile only.

Rise of personalized advertising and the death of disruption on mobile: It all boils down to how well you know your consumer at the end of the day. Facebook’s strength lies in “understanding of the consumer” and compelling data points about the kind of lifestyle your consumer leads today. Combine that with the power of native advertising and you have something which has the potential to change the course of display advertising in the years to come.  Native advertising produced by only publishers have faced challenges of cost and achieving scale for buyers in the past; and this is where Facebook and partner brands need to come in. When publishers, agencies and brands work together in creating seamless immersive experiences: that is the moment of truth when native advertising will grab the consideration and trust of consumers.

The future of mobile lies in the slow death of disruption; it’s not about interrupting your consumer’s morning routine when he or she is reading the newspaper online. One of the biggest learnings of the previous year for agencies and brands alike have been the fact that consumers have a much lower tolerance for disruption in their mobile eco-system. It’s a personal and intimate environment and the way we ingest media into this space needs to be dynamically different from the desktop ecosystem. Thus native advertising backed by rich data and ad formats which are more customizable and user friendly come into play.

Facebook’s audience network allows more freedom to brands and agencies to now come together to create hyper-personalized content that can lead to much closer meaningful relationships between brands and their consumers. And, that is a definite win for the world of display advertising.