For decades, those of us in the advertising world have been constantly reminded of the sacrosanct separation of "church and state" that exists between editorial and advertising in the media. The fear on the content side was the possible perception that editorial integrity might be compromised if there was no clear delineation between reporting and advertising (or paid-for content). The blurring of those lines even spawned the creation of the hybrid label “advertorial.” This gray area has just become a bit grayer.
The Web has led to a democratization of media -- reporting is no longer just the domain of trained journalists. “Citizen journalists” are now commonplace, and we are more likely now to get our "news" from bloggers, a late-night comedy show, tweets or even Facebook postings. Savvy readers are increasingly becoming more adept at quickly spotting the differences between editorial and marketing. But does the difference really even matter? Or does relevant content -- whatever its author's intent -- now make this blurred line acceptable?
Recently, Facebook announced that the company will begin placing ads purchased through its ad exchange, Facebook Exchange (FBX), into the news feeds of users, including retargeted ads from companies such as Zipcar and Zappos. Direct-response advertisers such as retailers and travel advertisers have been early adopters and innovators in the area of ad retargeting. Since people spend so much time on Facebook and tend to check in several times a day, direct-response advertisers will now be more likely to connect with a consumer soon after -- or right before -- researching a trip or purchase.
With Facebook’s new offering for real-time bidding (RTB), many brands and agencies may have to scramble to create assets to fit this model. If history is any indicator, this complication will not prevent advertisers from jumping at this new opportunity. Marketers now have the real-time opportunity to enter a part of people’s online lives that had previously been off limits. Brands that already understand data-driven marketing and smart programmatic buying will be able to make great use of this out of the gate. And as we have also seen with all new ad formats, some will surely stumble.
If the ads on news feeds are meaningful and relevant to consumers, then they will add value to their Facebook experience; if not, they may do marketers more harm than good. Advertisers must remember to tread carefully and respect the space they are entering. Brands that understand and respect that they are crossing the limits of the advertising “rails” and stepping directly into people’s world via their news feeds may be able to capitalize on this new “closeness” to their target consumer.
If this is just a deluge of more irrelevant ads (the last thing the Internet needs!) then it will be hard to deliver performance (whatever that performance metric might be), prove their value and maintain rate. But if there is demand for limited supply, and if the ads really are relevant to consumers, then the auction factor could play a huge role in building the value of these placements. Smart frequency control will also be very important here.
Inviting advertisers to enter the Facebook News Feed via its exchange serves as yet another step toward combining paid and earned media. In turn, this makes the need for relevancy and the smart use of data more important than ever.