I'm sure we've all seen the recent stories around Facebook's rumours introduction of 15-second video ads. They've created a large amount of buzz in the media and advertising industries, but could the impact be much more than just a large ad in your news feed?
Over the past 12 months, Facebook have come under a lot of criticism for their advertising. Both in terms of the products they offer, as well as the way their targeting works. Brands have seen their ads placed on pages promoting violent or sexual content, members have complained about the sponsored stories being misleading, and key word targeting has often led to ads being shown next to less than positive status updates - just ask EE. With many of these factors combined, along with the fact that the number of products offered even led to advertisers becoming confused, Facebook eventually cut the number of products in half.
There are of course, a number of positives and negatives to any new ad format, however with Facebook, these could be more powerful than people may expect. Many members are already becoming annoyed at the number of ads being shown on the social networking site, so how can a more impactful, intrusive and disruptive ad do anything but increase members dislike of Facebook's ad offering?
Video has been around for years, and it's something that catches people's attention. What it hinges on, however, is how it's delivered to the consumer. A video which 'pops up' when scrolling down your feed will not be welcomed, but on which is embedded and part of the content will work much better. People use their news feed for content, both rich and text-based, so a video ad with an appearance similar to a YouTube clip or Facebook video upload will be no different.
For brands, it also offers them the opportunity to match television advertising with real-time content their audience is pushing out onto Facebook. Running an ad on TV during the X-Factor for example is one thing, but being able to reach those people again on Facebook and deliver them the same ad, after they have posted a comment about how they loved the ad or even the programme is a different matter. This could give brands a unique opportunity to extend the reach of a TV based ad, and ensure that people are watching it.
The make or break for Facebook comes with their management of the product. The rumoured prices of up to $2.5m a day is staggering. In any business, there comes a time when a company or person will get greedy, and that's what Facebook much watch out for. There is a very fine line between commercial opportunity, and the happiness of your consumers. As a user of a number of social networks myself, I know there's a point where the consumer will decide there's too much commercialisation, and will leave. There's such a vast wealth of websites, social networks and news outlets now, that people aren't tied to one specific place. Should the ads be too great in number, and too frequent, members will close their accounts and leave, it's that simple. Facebook need to take a good hard look before that launch this product, about how much they really value their members.
What could also affect the offering is Facebook's audience. When I joined, I was in the majority demographic, now however, this has changed. Facebook is attracting a large number of so-called older members, or Generation X, who are not as receptive to advertising in this form. Unlike the Generation Y users, who are exposed to ads almost every minute of the day, the Gen X members are used to seeing ads on TV or in the paper, they're not used to them being as intrusive as online ads now can be. The same goes for the younger audience. A brilliant piece entitled 'I'm 13 and None of My Friends Use Facebook' by Ruby Karp last week, highlighted just what the younger generation think of the site - Facebook just isn't trending anymore.
Ruby points out, and rightly so, that in a few years, her generation will be the ones who are keeping the site going. Alienating them now, through too many ads and irrelevant content, is a mistake Facebook cannot afford to make. Get it right, however, and the next generation will be the ones who help take Facebook forward.
Whatever the new offering brings, it's going to be a big few months for Facebook. Get it right, and they'll hit the jackpot, get it wrong however, and we could see both brands and consumers walking away from the social giant.
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