Kelly MacLean’s job as Facebook’s lead ad planner in emerging markets is to watch people watch ads. She travels to places like Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa to study the local behavior so Facebook can come up with marketing that works in those countries.
In the United States, social media marketing can feel like an intrusion. In the developing world the challenge is too few ads, not too many, MacLean said.
In developing countries people actually want to connect with brands more, she added. For instance, she’s seen Facebook users take screen grabs of ads, saving them with their phones.
“Sitting with people on the ground, watching them consume content on Facebook, we saw several people take screenshots of ads and then take it and share it with friends,” MacLean said. “It took us back.”
In these growing countries, interest in branded content was higher, and marketing messages were more welcomed.
“Brands in developing countries play a more pivotal role in general,” MacLean said. “People are aspiring to owning brands, and moving up socially and economically.”
Feature phones present unique barriers to marketing
In the developing world, up to 70 percent of users are spending time on Facebook from feature phones (not only flip phones, but basic smartphones.) In these areas, Facebook users are concerned with data expenses and slow networks.
Facebook’s typical advertising playbook just doesn’t translate.
“In these markets people want to connect with brands in ways we never really thought of,” MacLean noted. “They want information from brands, details on products, the ability to share ads.”
The developing world is a crucial growth area for Facebook’s ad business, especially countries like India and Brazil. The developing world accounts for about 30 percent of Facebook users, but about 10 percent of ad sales last quarter.
Facebook has 100 million monthly users in India and two-thirds are on feature phones, which has been a technological barrier to advertising.
The team has been working on advances that send media using the least amount of data.
Ad products that embrace local customs
Facebook also is building country-specific ad products based on the behavior that MacLean sees when she visits, like when she saw users take screenshots.
“We could make it easier for them to do that right from the ad,” she said.
In India, Facebook’s researchers picked up on the cultural phenomenon of missed calls, where people basically call each other and quickly hang up so they don’t incur phone charges but still get a friend’s attention.
In the U.S., consumers would find it hard to recognize this behavior because of the prevalence of unlimited phone minutes.
In India, Facebook now lets advertisers buy missed call ads that prompt users to dial a number and hang up. The calls put consumers in a contest or other promotion, and brands can call consumers back with other marketing messages like polls or game highlights.
Facebook shared a recent case in which Garnier promoted its hair products to 15 million men in India using the missed call ads.
In the developing world, mobile is critical to brands’ ability to market, and many see Facebook as one of the few digital advertising avenues open to reaching this newly connected populace, one that’s mostly mobile and often on feature phones.
Media agencies and brands want to reach developing world
Facebook works with the big media agencies like Omnicom and WPP to test the creative concepts and different formats. The developing world was top of mind for brands and agencies meeting with Facebook at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last month.
“Our clients want to connect with people in these countries, however, limited and scalable mobile options make that a challenge,” Cheuk Chiang, CEO of Omnicom Media Group in Asia-Pacific, said in an e-mail today. “We are working with Facebook to explore new ad solutions which are directly built from the way people communicate on mobile everyday.”
Facebook also is measuring how the ads affect feature phone users in developing worlds—do they recall the message, does their sentiment change?
MacLean says that Nielsen helps measure reactions. In Africa, Nielsen found that feature phone campaigns are more effective there than anywhere else Facebook marketing appears—higher brand recall and larger increases in purchase intent, MacLean says.
“Mobile is translating into connectedness in high-growth countries,” she stated. “In some cases brands are able to reach people for the first time.”