Facebook's ad network extends to mobile Web

Facebook has confirmed that its mobile ad network, Facebook Audience Network, is extending from serving ads on third-party apps to the mobile Web. Starting today, any one of the company’s 2.5 million advertisers will soon be able to use Facebook’s knowledge about its audience to target people off Facebook’s site.

A number of studies have showed that while most of our time is spent in-app, Yoav Arnstein, who leads Facebook’s publisher ad tech business, told Digiday the numbers on mobile Web can’t be ignored. “The reality is that when you look at the top 1000 apps vs the top 1000 mobile Web properties, mobile web generates 2.5 times more reach than apps,” he said, quoting U.S. comScore data.

Over the last few months the company has been testing the ad network with 10 beta partner publishers including Hearst, Elite Daily, USA Today, TIME Inc., Diply, 90 minutes and Answers.com. It’s seeing successes, but wouldn’t divulge details. However, Facebook said in an email it won’t be publishing the full list of where else the ads could be shown, just like it hasn’t made available the apps where ads could be shown either, something the industry is crying out for.

“Facebook has had trouble scaling its ad network because it’s a blind network buy,” said Henry Arkell, head of social advertising at MG OMD. “When we’ve used them they have been very cost efficient and driven CTR, but the problem is we don’t know where the ads are served.” For instance, finding a McDonald’s ad in a kids app could cause a real headache. “Because of this there’s a huge hesitancy from big brands we work with.”

Of course, Facebook’s argument is that because it works on people-based targeting, it can accurately pinpoint the right person, regardless of the environment. “For us if they don’t disclose it means the quality of the site is questionable,” said Arkell.

Dan Chapman, global digital director at Mediacom, is less concerned about the blind buy as many people already trade on Facebook, but would like to know what third-party verification technology can be used to retroactively assess brand environment.

“Audience-based buys don’t account for moment-based marketing,” he said, commenting on how a lot of successful marketing relies on context. “Knowing your audience is important but knowing the context of that moment could have more impact on changing that behaviour.”

“Facebook is a walled garden after all,” he added, “so we’ll get less detail on what each impression means. The parameters of what can be optimized is limited to what Facebook will let you see.”

FB screen
Facebook’s native ads have performed 7x better than banner ads

The extension to mobile Web would make Facebook Audience Network a serious contender to other mobile ad networks from Google, Apple and AOL’s Millennial Media. In the fourth quarter of 2015 Facebook reached $1 billion of revenue served through Audience Network, it wouldn’t confirm how much of that revenue it kept, but said that “the bulk” was passed back to publishers.

Native and video formats are still in demand in-app and on the mobile Web, according to the company. For its in-app advertising Facebook has found that 80 percent of ads served are native to the app experience, that could be in terms of ad interaction, like swiping right if the ad is on Tinder, or in font and format. Perhaps unsurprisingly they are performing 7 times better than banner ads, Facebook claims.

“This is bridging up in-app use and a cookie-based Web world,” said Scott Curtis European mobile strategy & development director at Starcom MediaVest Group. “Soon we will see app-to-Web retargeting, or sequential messaging across devices.”

“It’s a big stride, but what’s more interesting will be the step after this when they move into desktop,” he added. “It has to be next logical step. It’s a saturated and very mature market, but it will offer something different with that audience.”