Facebook Is Using This Data to Pitch Canvas Ads to Mobile-Minded Marketers

They could be website killers

Almost a year after Facebook rolled out its Canvas ad unit at Cannes, the social network is releasing data about the mobile product, which allows for entire campaigns to be built inside of it. Ford, Target, Nike, Samsung, Little Caesars, Apple, Procter & Gamble and L'Oreal are among the brands that have run Canvas campaigns in recent months, and Facebook opened up the full-screen ad format to all marketers in February.

"It takes everything Facebook can do and puts it all into one place," said Gerry Graf, founder/chief creative officer at Barton F. Graf, which launched a campaign for Little Caesars this week using the ad format. "It is like the new microsite but you don't have to go anywhere. Half of the deal is getting people to interact with your stuff and not asking them to go through too many steps."

Similar to its pitch for publishers to publish custom content through Instant Articles, Facebook is playing up its speed, data and reach to stay ahead of Snapchat's full-screen, vertical ads. Facebook reports that Canvas ads load 10 times faster than the average mobile website. To get that number, the company crunched load times on newsfeed links that lead to websites outside Facebook, which on average take eight seconds to fully load.

"The key thing we realized is that we need to make creation really easy because while news agencies have RSS feeds, we knew we needed to create really visual creation tools for marketers," said Zack Hendlin, a product manager at Facebook. "We're starting to see people doing more sophisticated things—for example, driving mobile app installs or taking folks who do spend a long time in a Canvas and then re-targeting them."

Automakers, for instance, are toying with serving up an ad promoting a user to sign up for a test drive after someone clicks through a Canvas ad that shows the ins and outs of a car's feature.

Hendlin declined to give any specific stats on click-through rates on ads, but said, "We've seen some early data that suggests those conversion rates are pretty good for folks who have been deeply engaged and looking at Canvas."

Social media agency Likeable Media recently ran a campaign for GrubHub that reached 1.5 million users and generated 4 million impressions. Forty-five thousand people interacted with the ad, and 20,000 people clicked through to either place an order, register for an account or download the food-delivery company's app. Likeable claims that the average user spent 63 seconds with the ad.

Meanwhile, Facebook claims the average user spends 31 seconds with content across all ads, and in the past three months, 100 years' worth of time has been spent with Canvas units.

New help for brands
The focus on speed also applies to new tools that Facebook has rolled out to marketers—more than half of Canvas ads are built in 10 minutes or less. Creators can even share ads as they've been developed, triggering a push notification to their colleagues.

Those features are particularly geared toward global marketers, some of which are working in developing countries where load time is especially important. To date, people in 186 countries have played with Canvas ads.

"In the developing countries, folks are creating somewhat shorter Canvases, more text-rich Canvases," Hendlin said.

Facebook is also testing features that let brands build 360-degree video and multiple landing pages for campaigns.

And to encourage people to click on ads that pop up in their newsfeeds, Facebook marks Canvas ads with an arrow—not unlike the copy on Snapchat ads that prompts users to "swipe up" to see additional content. To that end, Facebook is working to make the posts stand out even more with new graphics and text.

"We're doing some work on how we can help show people before they've even clicked into a Canvas that this is going to be a lightweight, immersive experience," explained Hendlin.

To help educate brands on all of this, Facebook has held several "hack" sessions with agencies and brands about Canvas, including one with creative agency Africa and Latin American bank Itau. Barton F. Graf's campaign also came out of a meeting with Facebook, and Graf is a member of Facebook's creative council.

Last year, the agency found a workaround to the platform's video player and created a video showing how much space creatives miss out on when a horizontal video runs on a smartphone.

This time, the shop wanted to find another interesting way to play around with a new social format. To grab consumers' attentions from the start, a button in the newsfeed cleverly warns consumers to not click on the ad unless they like surprises. Once tapping on the ad, two disembodied heads float above a piece of pizza.

"When I saw the first try, I laughed out loud and wanted to do it again, which is a good sign for a creative piece. It was done on strategy and all about the products, so we quickly made it a little tighter for our client and let them play around with it," Graf said.

He added, "Functionally, we had a smoother time playing with this than we did when we started playing with Snapchat—then you also just have more people on Facebook, so it's a much wider audience."

Take a look at Barton F. Graf's spot for Little Caesars below that uses a smartphone's accelerometer to pan across the scene.