Whether Facebook dramatically launches a smartphone or more simply announces that it's landed a high-value piece of Android real estate on HTC's mobile devices (those are the main two rumors, but the latter seems likelier) will be revealed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg's company at 1 p.m. ET today. Either way, per digital marketers, the advertising ramifications appear to be significant.
Adweek asked a handful of agency and vendor players for their opinions about what the news could mean to their business—and each opted to focus on the more plausible HTC scenario.
"We'd expect this to create a lot of opportunities for brands, possibly even opportunities to customize the phone experience," predicted Marcelo Eduardo, vp of user experience for Huge. "But Facebook will move a little slower on this until the user base really grows and is locked in, and they have a handle on what their users' tolerance will be for those kind of executions."
Monik Sanghvi, chief strategy officer for Organic, said that the HTC development "could be a boon for Facebook's ad-targeting strategy. Theoretically, [it] could strengthen Facebook's monetization of both the data variables they can target as well as the number of ads they can serve. Now, this is just a strategic conversation—lots of executional issues for Facebook to figure out to monetize the strategy."
To underscore points suggested by Eduardo and Sanghvi, Facebook's past is peppered with big product ideas resulting in reversals that produced equally sized chatter. Though, the nine-year-old firm has slowly been reined in since COO Sheryl Sandberg was cherry-picked from Google in 2008 to make the social media juggernaut competitive with her former employer and other huge digital players.
On that note, Sanghvi said, "Most importantly, this should be viewed as Facebook's first foray into solidifying its vision for becoming another digital ecosystem—similar to the multichannel plays from other [digital behemoths] like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon."
When asked whether Thursday's phone-related development was the work of Zuckerberg or the ever-influential Sandberg, Eduardo from Huge replied, "This feels 100 percent 'Zuck.' It probably started when he hired Mike Matas [two years ago]—one of the rock stars from the iPhone team…This project sounds like the perfect pitch to get someone like Matas on board."
Rich Guest, co-president of Tribal (formerly TribalDDB), said that a Facebook-powered phone should open up numerous business opportunities for the company—but doubted that this particular push had advertising at its heart. "In the short term, a Facebook experience that is prominent and deeply integrated into the phone should help the company maintain a dominant leadership position in the social networking space," he said. "In the long term, the new mobile operating system will undoubtedly create rich data profiles that enable deeper ad targeting. But as Mark Zuckerberg has said, Facebook's advertising business doesn't impact its product design. And I don't believe that the advertising business drove this product design."
Mike Lazerow, cmo at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, added, "Facebook is the number one app on every mobile device, and I expect whatever they announce will be designed to make sure they stay in that position."
Today's announcement will certainly interest public investors who have watched Facebook go on a mobile-based mission in the last year to prove to them that it's more than an online fad. (The calendar draws near to the company's one-year acquisition anniversary for Instagram.) Thursday's phone-related news could arguably bolster Facebook's mobile revenue prowess, which eMarketer just yesterday said would total a whopping $965 million in mobile ads by the end of 2013.