Facebook’s New Custom Ad Tools Target an Audience From Desktop to Mobile

Bullseye on users allows businesses to focus messages

Facebook advertisers can now hit moving targets—users as they switch from laptops to smartphones to tablets. The social network announced new self-serve tools for marketers today that bring retargeted advertising to its mobile app for the first time.

“We are giving marketers more flexibility in the way that they can target,” said Elisabeth Diana, a Facebook spokeswoman. “In turn it’s good for people who see the ads because the goal is for them to be more targeted.”

Facebook developed an ad product for companies to embed into their websites and apps to track users back to the social network on mobile or desktop, where they can serve up ads. Today's ad advances are Facebook's first attempt at bridging the device divide between mobile and desktop that has vexed marketers.

“A bike retailer could reach people who started designing bikes on its website but didn’t make a purchase,” Facebook said in its announcement today. “Through custom audiences, the company can reach these people via desktop News Feed and encourage them to finish customizing online. Or, a mobile travel app can deliver ads to people who have downloaded their app but haven’t used it in a while and encourage them to book getaways within the app.”

Facebook’s announcement was billed as a small update to its “custom audiences” service that lets businesses and developers fine-tune campaigns to reach specific users based on criteria like age and gender.

“Advertisers can use Facebook’s first-party data to target, which is the richest goldmine that exists,” said Nikhil Sethi, co-founder of Adaptly, a social advertising technology company.

Retargeting is commonplace on desktop computers—where users often see product messages follow them across the Web—but the industry is still developing the framework that allows marketers to find consumers on multiple devices.

The ability for advertisers to reach consumers across their many smart devices is a crucial step for marketing, according to Chris Cunningham, CEO of social advertising firm appssavvy. “It’s a growing trend,” he said.

The upgrades to “custom audience” advertising offer a simplified version of retargeting, which some industry watchers think limits the necessity for businesses to hire outside firms that traditionally manage complex online campaigns.

However, more advanced—real-time and dynamic—advertising through Facebook Exchange will continue to be the domain of specialists, according to Adam Berke, president of online marketing firm AdRoll. “It’s no secret or surprise that this was coming down the pipe,” Berke said. “It doesn’t fundamentally change our business.”

In fact, Berke said that the retargeting tools for mobile would help his firm once they are rolled out more widely.

Facebook said that over the coming weeks it plans to open the new capabilities for select partners only, which it declined to name. Facebook also said that there are privacy controls that enable users to curb ads based on their web history.