Facebook Video Ads Draw Agency Skeptics

Facebook is getting closer to rolling out its new video ad product, with which it hopes to cash in on the growing advertiser demand for online video inventory at scale, and maybe attract some TV dollars, too.

But some agency execs think the product might not be the hit the social network is hoping for. They are worried the ads could easily alienate Facebook’s users if they’re implemented incorrectly, and they question whether the platform is right for TV-like advertising in the first place. As it did with previous ad products such as Beacon, Facebook may well end up backtracking on its video plans based on poor user reception.

For media buyers, the biggest concern is how users will react to ads that play automatically in their news feeds. The accompanying audio won’t begin unless a user wants it to, but no amount of testing can really predict how an autoplay implementation will be received across the network, one senior media agency exec warned.

“Even if user testing comes through positively, I’m not sure that a negative and vocal reaction from a minority of users might not quickly sour a critical mass of users on the product,” he said. “I don’t necessarily see it as a ‘jumping the shark’ moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had to walk back a bit on the scope of the product.”

For that reason, agency execs told Digiday they would advise clients to wait and see how the ads are received by users before committing to a purchase. If there is a consumer backlash, brands won’t want to get caught up in it.

But beyond the autoplay nature of the ads, questions also remain around targeting and frequency capping, or the potential lack thereof. Some digital buyers expressed concerns that a “TV mentality” could ruin what might otherwise be an extremely useful ad opportunity. The trick for Facebook, they say, will be to resist the temptation to exploit its scale simply because TV advertisers with big budgets want it to. Yet Facebook’s pitch to advertisers so far has been the opportunity to reach millions of users with one buy, as opposed to niche, targeted segments of users.

“If traditional media agencies use this to ‘go digital’ and we get hammered with too many impressions and too little targeting, it could suck,” said one senior digital media buyer.

“Using a traditional model of blasting the same ad with [each user seeing it 10 times] would be really annoying. But being thoughtful, in a digital way, and using segments and creative assets and messages to target users more uniquely could go a long way to making it less annoying,” he added.

Facebook is well aware of these issues, of course. According to reports, including this one by the Wall Street Journal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is nervous about striking the right balance between advertiser and user needs. That’s likely why the video product was delayed from its expected summer launch.

The price tag is also hefty. Agency execs pitched on the video product said Facebook is asking for commitments of over $2 million. That immediately rules out a large range of advertisers that would balk at spending that much of their digital budget with one partner.

That said, they predict it will nonetheless find early traction with advertisers in categories like entertainment, CPG and auto.

“The price tag is whopping, but I am excited for the video ads,” the digital buyer concluded. “It definitely has the potential to lift the reach and impact levels possible for online.”

Given Facebook’s 200 million U.S. users, that’s certainly the case. But the hard part, as always, will be reaching them without alienating them.