How Facebook on mobile is ‘closer to TV’

This article originally appeared in the Facebook Marketing Bible, our subscription product for marketers and advertisers looking to better understand the Facebook platform.

In an on-stage interview earlier this month, Mark Zuckerberg described advertising on mobile as “closer to TV than desktop.” He also said traditional Facebook ads as we know them are not possible on mobile.

As Facebook shifts more focus toward its mobile iterations, there are different steps the service can take to become “more like TV.” However, there are already similarities between the two mediums. This article will look at how Facebook on mobile is already like TV and how it is different from desktop.

More Linear, More Prominent

Facebook on desktop might be best described as organized chaos. Besides the news feed, there is a message tab, ticker, chat, as well as ads and links to nearly every other Facebook feature from the homepage. With so much going on, the ad column on the right doesn’t detract from the rest of the content.

Zuckerberg explained that this ad column is not possible on mobile because there simply “is not enough room.” As a result, ads “have to be fundamentally added to the product,” he said. This is biggest reason why mobile must differentiate itself from desktop.

Facebook’s mobile applications are linear experiences in the same way somebody watches television. For example, when the Facebook mobile application is loaded, users are presented immediately with their feed. When somebody watches television, they are tuned into only one channel. Both screens provide a steady stream of information.

Because it is a linear experience, ads have become more prominent as well. Much like how television shows have commercial breaks, the content in the news feed is split apart by Promoted Posts and Sponsored Stories. These ads receive more attention than right column ads because of how they fit in the information stream. Commercials capture more attention than stationary ads in magazines or newspapers because of how prominent they are on the television. They are the only information present on the screen. The same can be said about news feed ads as they are embedded in the stream, often taking up the full mobile screen, as it recently highlighted in an infographic partially seen below.


Of course, ads can also seen as disruptive of the experience of both Facebook and television. One of the biggest complaints for both is there are simply too many ads which get in the way of what people really want to see. If Facebook mobile ads are like TV, will it mean that ads become more disruptive?

As mentioned before, Zuckerberg has said that mobile ads “have to be fundamentally added to the product.” It doesn’t seem as though the company is looking to introduce interruptive ads into its mobile apps or site. Instead, it began with Sponsored Stories, which have been incredibly successful for advertisers on desktop and even more so on mobile.

Sponsored Stories are a way for advertisers to pay to amplify an action that users have taken, for example, Liking a page, sharing a link, claiming an offer or playing a game. Creative is fixed with only the name and logo of the advertiser along with the name and sometimes a photo of a friend who is connected to the page, app or site.

When comparing it to television, Sponsored Stories are in the same vein as product placement with how they fit so naturally in the stream. Product placement is so heavily integrated in movies and television that it is now almost required for proper realism. Instead of a character grabbing a generic soda, they grab a Coke or a Pepsi. Switch that to the context of Facebook, friends don’t just like burritos, they like Chipotle or Taco Bell. Both marketing strategies are so integrated in the medium, they are accepted as a part of the experience. These types of ads can also subtly influence people toward these specific products.

To make another comparison, Page Post Ads with photos or only text can be considered commercials when they lack social context. When users can consciously realize they are viewing an ad instead of friend’s or page’s update, it usually turns them off of the ad. Socially relevant ads use word of mouth to appeal to friends and friends of friends. The line between ad and a social update is blurred when running social ads.

By looking at television, which commercials do the best in terms of being memorable and making an impression on audiences? The ones that are high quality and endearing. This is exactly the same story for Facebook. Commercials are short 30 second spots that need to be attention-grabbing. Social ads should be short, lightweight content that is engaging. Facebook is more fortunate than television however, because of how easy it is to measure engagement and response through insights and analytics.

But are these ads disruptive? When comparing it to television, no. If an ad doesn’t catch a user’s attention, they can scroll past it. If a user really doesn’t like an ad, they can mark it as spam — an option that isn’t available on TV. And unlike on TV, Facebook ads are optimized in real time. If few users are clicking on an ad, Facebook will show it less and charge the advertiser more to get back in the feed. For Facebook ads, the best content is going to get the most engagement. The most engaged content is going to be the most shared which means it is the most seen. Facebook’s biggest advantage is how it is a synchronous relationship between fans and page managers.


When Zuckerberg said that mobile is “closer to TV,” he was mostly referring to the way that information is organized for both. As a whole, Facebook on mobile is becoming more like television in the way that it broadcasts information in a streamlined way. The way ads are presented and integrated into the product are the same way ads are made to fit in narratives and include small breaks between the actual content.

Both remain as great ways to advertise for branding purposes. Most commercials work as a way to promote the brand of the advertising companies. Rarely it is a way to get people to run outside and buy a product. Facebook can not only promote a brand but can get people to interact and talk about the brand.

Zuckerberg was strategic in comparing the two channels. By comparing the two, he is implying that there is some significant value in Facebook mobile advertising, similar to how valuable television commercials can be. For the social network to move to the next level in generating ad revenue, it will need to start shifting advertisers’ TV budgets to Facebook mobile.

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