Here’s Exactly How Facebook’s New TV-Inspired, Surprisingly Old-School Ad Buying Works

Network wants to move past seeming arrogant and automated

Facebook has been consistently courting ad agencies and brands since vp of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson came over from Microsoft four and a half years ago. It seems like her team has done an unusually good job of that—if $3.8 billion in ad revenue last quarter means anything. 

But video is a digital gold mine that Facebook has yet to come close to maximizing, and it's ready to pamper to the needs of the well-budgeted advertiser community rather than trying to force its own approaches on the marketing industry.

Instead of telling veteran buyers why they need to get to know Facebook's interactive features, the social network instead asked dozens of  buyers what they wanted before developing. Those learnings were baked into Facebook's first dedicated ad-buying system for video called TRP Buying, which was unveiled Sunday night. Its name references the long-held, traditional-media metric called target-rating points (TRPs) that television-focused marketers buyers will immediately understand. 

"I think we have moved away from this sort of my-way-or-the-highway mentality," Graham Mudd, Facebook's director of ads product marketing, told Adweek. "It's about humility more than anything else. Sometimes, I think big digital media companies like Facebook have gotten a bad rap for being arrogant and insisting everyone do things their way. We heard that criticism and have tried to adapt, while reducing that friction so people can interact with us in the right way."

He added, "[TRP Buying] was designed so it was as easy as possible for the existing buyers as opposed to easy for us."

Here is how TRP Buying works in eight steps—using a hypothetical consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand as the client:

  1. The CPG chooses a target demographic, such as women between the ages of 35 and 54. 
  2. The buyer then selects the number of TRPs to purchase. For the uninitiated, target-rating points are the percent of the target demo times the number of impressions (which are details chosen by the marketer when purchasing Facebook video ads). So if there are 40 million 35- to 54-year-old Brazilian females on Facebook, 50 TRPs (or 50 percent), for example, the CPG will reach 20 million of those consumers one time. But if the ad is shown to the same population two-and-a-half times on average, the campaign delivered 125 TRPs. Even though percent is part of the TRPs equation, more than 100 can be purchased. Indeed, for non-media buyers, TRPs can be confusing. Read this marketer metrics explainer website for additional minutiae. 
  3. The marketer can call a Facebook salesperson or start an email chain with the rep to figure out what to buy. Indeed, digital savvy—in terms of programmatic ad buying, at least—isn't at all needed. 
  4. The advertiser then selects from three options. The least-expensive selection generally entails a lower number of consumers reached at a higher frequency, while the more costly option reaches a higher number of the target demo at a lower frequency. The marketer also can choose a blend of the two that's optimized for efficient deliver. Pricing specifics have not been disclosed. 
  5. If the brand decides to buy the inventory, a signed contract is eventually exchanged between Facebook and the buyer, and the campaign can start in a few days or be purchased six months in advance. The buyer is guaranteed the TRPs in the contract. 
  6. The campaign runs. 
  7. Data results such as TRPs, consumers reached and frequency achieve will become available daily via Nielsen's Digital Ad Ratings division, Facebook's data partner. 
  8. At the end of the campaign, a final report will be issued to see if Facebook met the brand's TRPs guarantee. If not, there will be make-goods—like with TV advertising. 

"Literally, our goal in setting that process up was to mirror exactly the way it works in TV," Mudd explained. "Our product team spent tons of time with TV buyers to learn the intricacies about just how this process works. What they told us was, 'Start by replicating.'"

Since the system lets ad buyers call or email their orders to Facebook, it marks a departure from the company's digital-native, automated ways of creating marketing products.

Though Mudd said ad buyers "told us, 'We will be willing to move to a more digital way of doing things as everything evolves.'"

Baby steps, in other words. 

It certainly will be intriguing to see how successful TRP Buying becomes on the social network—not to mention Facebook-owned Instagram, which will get the program during the first quarter of 2016.