Facebook's New Ads Walk a Very Fine, Spammy Line

By Erin Griffith , written on February 29, 2012

From The News Desk

Sorry Dave's Diamond Barn, but if Facebook's new ad format obnoxiously kills everything we loved about the site, it'll be your fault, not Nike's.

Today Facebook announced it's going to allow brands into the news feed in a major way, on the side of the page. Branded stories will also appear on the logout page on the side, as well as on mobile devices.

Importantly, there is no control in place to prevent repeat viewing. I could, in theory, see the same trailer for Titanic in 3D in my news feed, on the side of the page, as I log out, and whenever any of my friends like, share, or comment on it. That's a whole lotta Leonardo.

This is a risky move for Facebook. The big brands, for the most part, know how to do social right. They'll use Facebook's new premium ad formats and "Reach Generator" in a way that enhances the Facebook experience for their fans. (Or at least, that's the idea). They know how valuable their fans are and how easy it is to turn them off with pushy selling.

The problem is that Facebook has 150,000 to 300,000 advertisers and four million business pages. I could personally buy an ad on Facebook and target it to harass my friends, if I wanted to. But can the little guys like Dave's Diamond Barn* use these products without spamming the crap out of us? At best, it's a stretch to think so.

Facebook has placed a few controls in order to prevent its platform from becoming Dave Chappelle's idea of the Internet. To start, the company is limiting eligibility for Reach Generator by number of fans. They haven't said what that threshold is, but I can assume it'll be open to only the most-liked brands to start. Notably, we saw this week that even the most-loved brands on Facebook have very low engagement with their fans. This announcement is likely painted as an answer to that.

Facebook spent the bulk of its breakout sessions at fMC today schooling the brands in  'best practices' for marketing on the site. The topics were very much focused on the basic tenets of social media, as in don't spam, don't spam, and oh, don't spam.

The swag bag even included a poster that says "think, market, share." Don't market, marketers!

Today's was not an audience that had never heard terms like "engagement," "conversation," or "listening." I've personally sat through quite a few Advertising Week panels, Internet Week panels, conferences, ad:tech talks and IAB case studies. And in my experience, big advertisers and agencies talk about this crap all. the. time. I know that the leaders of online and social marketing, the ones who are in the audience today, are plenty aware of how to do social marketing right.

Top agencies and brands are the ones deploying the largest chunks of cash into categories like social networking. But if you've ever paid attention to a Facebook ad, and you'd be in a minority if you have, you'll notice that they aren't exactly packed with top tier brands. I personally get served ads from lawyers, shady dental repair companies, and obscure e-commerce sites. Mind you, those little display ads on the side of the page aren't going away just yet. But I wouldn't be surprised if over time, as more brands jump onto premium buys, they start to head in that direction. Eventually they'll be able to get into the news feed with Reach Generator as well.

Even though I'm not a heavy "liker" of brands., I'll still get Facebook's branded stories served to me. They'll show up when my friends interact with brands, something Facebook isn't even capitalizing on.

Notably, Facebook won't get paid for my impressions because it charges for the brands per fan, so any amplification through engagement is incremental to ad buyers. This is not a bad ad selling strategy, but to me it seems like they're leaving money on the table. Twitter, for example, charges per interaction (retweet, favorite, or reply) on its Promoted Tweets.

  • Dave's Diamond Barn is fictional, that I know of. If you exist in real life, Dave, proprietor of diamonds from a barn, I apologize for making you a scapegoat.