Alongside new AR ad features for Instagram Reels and Facebook Stories and a slew of performance insights, Meta wanted advertisers to remember who’s (still) boss in the social media stratosphere at yesterday’s IAB NewFronts presentation.
Walking into Meta’s event at The Shed, a futuristic alien-looking building located next to The Vessel at Hudson Yards, the first thing that stood out was a high striker (also known as a “strongman game” (the classic carnival game with the hammer and the bell) with "3.8 billion" posted at the top.
A group of young advertisers (mostly men) gathered around passing off the comically large hammer, trying to prove they were “more powerful than Meta’s reach” -- which is, yes, 3.8 billion monthly active people using the tech giant's suite of apps worldwide.
This number was repeated many times throughout the presentation, especially by “Emily In Paris” star Ashley Park, who hosted the event, as well as Meta Vice President for the Global Business Group Nicola Mendelsohn, who reminded the audience that 3.8 billion actually represents "one out of every two people on the planet."
As a human being, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by that statement. As an advertiser, I imagine it's hard not to be impressed.
However, I think it's important to remember that many of Meta's most prominent and fastest-growing features today -- like Reels and its new AR ad tools -- mimic ones that came before, from competitors like TikTok and Snapchat.
This conundrum was especially evident when Meta's Director of Culture and Community Marketing MJ James was interviewing viral comedy influencer Elyse Myers.
TikTok was mentioned, just once, in relation to Myers' start and massive following on the app, and James was quick to roll her eyes and move on to Myers' use of Meta's TikTok copycat, Reels.
Of course, Meta isn’t the only company to copy TikTok's immensely popular short-form video model, which altered the social media landscape, put entertainment above the friend-to-friend connection, and transfixed Gen Z users. But with 3.8 billion users worldwide, they are set to make the biggest impact.
According to Mendelsohn, 50% of those users regularly utilize Reels and Stories. And the results for advertisers and brands seem to be there. Internal data shared by Charles Porch, vice president of Instagram partnerships, showed 98% of US users taking an action after watching Reels, with 75% of those users following a business after viewing Reels.
With Reels, “businesses can turn attention into action,” Porch said, adding that the brand-to-user experience is largely “precipatory” and entertainment-focused.
All of this brings us to the reason we were all there (along with listening to Porch share stories about pitching the Pope on Instagram at the Vatican in 2012, a surprisingly engaging anecdote): Meta's new augmented reality (AR) and shopping video ad products.
First off, Meta is now allowing advertisers to run AR ads that were originally available on the Facebook Feed, Instagram Feed and Instagram Stories, on Reels and Stories, which, incidentally, is where the younger users are.
Meta showcased the AR ad product with beauty brand Sephora (see below), which tested the AR ads via an “aura vibe” filter to help users select the best fragrance and seamlessly make a purchase. Over half of the ad’s audience, according to Sephora, included Gen Z users.
Reels ads will also be more interactive and seamless, with the inclusion of a larger “call to action” button that includes an ad thumbnail, headline, and business details like the brand's website link, and the ability to pause video ads and preview the branded link -- a move that could drive higher click-through rates for Reels ads. Users can also now swipe through multiple product images in a carousel without leaving the Reel they’re viewing.
“Video is the future of our platform,” stated one of Meta’s presenters. This has become clear in the past year.
In terms of AR ads, Meta is taking a page out of Snap's playbook. Snapchat has been providing advertisers and brands with AR ad features for years -- and as TechCrunch notes, has been working with brands that want to leverage Snap's AR technology on their own websites via its AR Enterprise Services division.
The high-striker game asked hammer-holders one question: “Are you more powerful than Meta's reach?”
For all other social media companies, the answer right now is probably no.