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A step in the right direction for Facebook’s Audience Network

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Just a few months ago, Facebook announced that its Audience Network was on track for a $1 billion annual run rate. Pretty impressive for an inventory source that’s less than three years old, and reflective of the degree to which Facebook Audience Network (FAN) is transforming the mobile advertising landscape, thanks to its focus on native ads.

And it’s no surprise really, you are taking the power of Facebook ads and putting them into a network of 3rd party apps and websites. It’s at the low CPMs that we see with Facebook and Instagram, which make it a cheaper option than buying through the sites directly and an effective way of increasing the reach. Advertisers can buy this cheap inventory layered with Facebook’s extensive targeting options with automatically re-purposed ad formats from your existing Facebook ads. What’s more is that we have seen some great results in the activity we as an agency have tested it with so far.

However, problematically, major ad buyers have advised marketers to avoid some of Facebook’s inventory over the lack of transparency. Most will remember the YouTube scandal earlier this year which saw the company very publicly criticised by the press for showing ads next to extremist content. This brought back to the forefront of what was already a large concern for a lot of advertisers: online brand safety. It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that Facebook is taking steps to improve the service they offer.

Facebook plans to start providing advertisers with lists of publishers on whose sites, apps, Instant Articles and native Facebook videos their ads may appear, the company announced on last month.

Facebook’s new publisher placement lists may help, but only to a point. The idea is that advertisers can scan these lists to see if any publishers are included that they don’t want to feature their ads. If so, advertisers can add those publishers to the block lists Facebook rolled out last year to bar brands’ ads from running on their sites or apps, though advertisers will be limited in how many publishers they can block.

While Facebook will provide advertisers with a complete list of all the publishers on which a campaign may run, advertisers will only be able to block a certain number of those publishers. Facebook is still figuring out the specific number. Facebook say a threshold is necessary so that advertisers don’t use these lists to cherry-pick individual publishers and buy their inventory through Audience Network, where the prices may be lower than if bought directly from the publisher.

The disclosure of where brands’ ads may appear could satisfy major ad buyers which make up the bulk of the digital media industry, who have held back from buying this black-box inventory from Facebook over a lack of transparency and control. However, there is still that limit to the control that more cautious advertisers may not want to risk.

There’s still some room for improvement in terms of Online Brand Safety, but it is a big step in the right direction for Facebook’s Audience network.

Oliver Clarke, Search Strategist

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