Facebook: Our Ads Are Just Like TV

Social giant pivots hard to branding argument

After years of digital marketers pointing to trackable click data as their main argument to why television-addicted brands were underspending on online ads, it’s come to this. Digital darling Facebook—armed with a slew of new data and a proselytized Nestle exec—stood in front of a packed house at IAB Mixx in midtown New York today and repeatedly stated that its social ads work just like in TV

“Just like in TV, they consume the message, and then when they go to the store, they are more likely to consume your product,” said Brad Smallwood, Facebook’s head of measurement and insights. “It’s proof that the click is not the right thing to optimize to. … Reach, just like in TV, is also a crucial driver.”

The social giant partnered with measurement firm DataLogix to study 50 campaigns, finding that Facebook advertisers’ physical store sales were the result of a click only 1 percent of the time. Indeed, 99 percent of sales were from consumers who saw an ad but didn’t click it.

It's not the first time this year that the digital firm has proclaimed that its ads work like those in traditional channels. However, the TV analogy appears to be a new centerpiece talking point as Mark Zuckerberg's eight-year-old brainchild hopes to increase ad revenues and win over Wall Street critics.

The analogy obviously doesn't apply to direct-response marketers, which, Smallwood noted, would naturally pay attention to click data when measuring ROI for Facebook ads. But he said that consumer packaged-goods firms and retailers should know that clicks don’t reveal much about a Facebook ad’s impact in “the grocery store, in the car dealership or in the local coffee shop.”

General Motors might want to take note. Facebook all but says that it’s a branding machine that sells everything from Cadillacs to cat food. According to the Facebook-DataLogix study, brands that maximize the reach of their campaigns see a 70 percent improvement when it comes to ROI. The joint report also found that brands could increase ROI by 40 percent if they reallocated high-frequency impressions to Facebook users seeing too few impressions.

“Managing the frequency of a marketing message is really important to driving success,” Smallwood explained. “Again, no surprise to those of us who have been in the TV business. In TV, you know, you don’t want to send 50 impressions to one person. Yet, you don’t want to send just one impression to the person. There is some sort of middle ground that you want to achieve.”

Smallwood wasn’t done riffing on Facebook ads and TV. “I think back to kind of the early days of television when there was no rulebook and no set of best practices,” he said. “This feels a lot like that. Except we have a lot more information. We don’t have to wait for media mix models and all those things to come back. We are getting real-time feedback on what’s working on campaigns.”

Nestle marketing chief Tom Buday later took the stage, commenting that content and brand messaging trumped the power of an individual media channel “whether we are talking about a TV commercial or a post on a Facebook page.”

Buday added, “I scratch my head when I read conversation going on in the industry these days questioning whether entire media platforms like Facebook or Twitter or social media in general work or don’t work for advertising. … To be fair, to be accurate, it’s not platforms that work or don’t work. It’s the brands' messages that do [or don’t].”

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