Why Facebook’s New Branding-Focused Tool Changes How Its Ads Can Be Targeted

Based on 'watch data' instead of page likes

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Facebook announced a few ad developments over the weekend, but one of them—which has the potential to truly change ad targeting on the platform—may have not gotten quite the attention it deserved. 

Called brand awareness optimization, the data-based tool will let marketers know which people appeared to spend quality time viewing a newsfeed, video or display promo. But it is not using a typical "time spent" metric, where viewers are clocked for a certain number of seconds and then tallied as an "engagement" or an "interaction," said Graham Mudd, Facebook's director of ads product marketing.

"We can see if a consumer spent more time looking at that ad then they typically spend looking at ads," he explained. "When you see someone slow down and consume the ad in ways that's different from his or her previous behaviors, that's a very strong predictor that the person will remember seeing the ad."

So a brand can measure how many viewers probably recall an ad. Then, the marketer will be able to group them and employ Facebook's database to find other users who have similar interest-level profiles.

It's different than Facebook's ability to build audience segments based on the pages for sports teams, musicians or actors that folks "liked" on the social platform. Now, marketers can employ what could be called "watch data" based on people who viewed a promo and combine it with page-likes data to predict which people would enjoy the same ad. It appears to be a more precise take on data targeting for branding-minded marketers than what Facebook has offered them in recent years. 

"With everyone talking about ad viewability [across the Web], brands should find this interesting," Mudd mentioned.

Also, if the marketer chooses, the people who didn't look at the campaign can be weeded from targeting parameters—which in effect can eliminate like-minded viewers who also probably wouldn't engage with the campaign. In short, it will give brands the ability to test ads similar to how direct-response marketers have for years on Facebook. 

"[This rollout] demonstrates that Facebook is growing up," said David Deal, a marketing consultant based in Chicago. "Facebook is finally becoming a mature advertising platform that can deliver targeted audiences for both awareness building and direct response."

Mobile polling, which also debuted this weekend, can boost the brand-awareness optimization tool's ability to better target consumers, Mudd said. His team is now working with Millward Brown Digital to let advertisers conduct smartphone and tablet-focused polling for creative and targeting insights to be used in Facebook and Instagram campaigns.

"Good optimization works by exploring," he said. "This system does that automatically."

Each item was revealed on Sunday evening, along with TRP Buying and video-carousel ads. 

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.