Brands Push Facebook Ad Limits

Facebook doesn’t allow brands to run rich media in its ad units, but they’re are still looking for ways to squeeze the type of all-singing, all-dancing executions they love into the platform wherever possible, both on desktop and mobile.

One approach launched this week is to craft “rich media stories,” which are essentially Facebook posts linking to mobile-optimized, HTML5 landing pages. The idea, hatched by vendor Celtra, is that users tapping through on the posts on mobile devices are greeted with touch-enabled, interactive experiences, not unlike the rich media ads provided by Apple’s iAd network and others. They’re then invited to share the experiences with their friends, while Celtra provides back and analytics around interactions within them.

Launch partners include advertisers such as Dunkin Donuts, Rovio, AT&T, Macy’s, Mars Chocolate North America, and Paramount Pictures, in conjunction with their agencies BBDO, Digitas, GroupM, Hill Holliday, Joule, and MEC.

In January Paul Gelb, Razorfish’s mobile practice lead, told Digiday the agency was trialing rich media ads on Facebook. It appears it was actually trialling Celtra’s rich media posts product. You can see why there would be confusion, since brands are running rich-media mobile ad units on Facebook but not sold Facebook itself. And the ads are really content. Confusing, right?

Through one post, Dunkin’ Donuts is inviting users to customize their cup of coffee by selecting various ingredients through an animated touch interface, then prompted to share their creation with friends. That’s the type of rich media experience Facebook has intentionally avoided, opting instead to focus on amplifying users’ interactions with brands across their friendship networks.

But brands can tap into Facebook’s ad products using the product, too. They can build experiences using Celtra’s technology, and then drive traffic to them with a sponsored stories ad buy from Facebook. When a user engages with the content, their interactions would then be highlighted to their friends.

The ability for brands to create interesting user experiences on mobile could encourage them to spend more money spreading them using Facebook’s paid products. But it also seems plausible that an advertiser might look to the viral nature of the creative as an alternative to buying media from Facebook, banking on earned, rather than paid exposure.

Celtra CEO Mihael Mikek suggested that dynamic already exists on the platform, though, and pointed to brands such as Coke that have already amassed millions of Facebook likes, but still invest in paid media.

As Facebook focuses more of its attention on mobile, Celtra isn’t the only vendor attempting to capitalize on the opportunity, though. Firms such as social media marketing software provider Wildfire are moving into mobile, too. The company has developed a mobile landing page product of its own, which uses responsive design and HTML5 to display branded content across a range of devices. As with Celtra’s product, interactions with those experiences could be turned into sponsored stories.

“The sponsored stories approach is forcing marketers to ensure the content they’re putting out is interesting to users,” said Wildfire’s director of product development, Tom Rikert. “The content is increasingly becoming the ad.”

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