Facebook’s still clutching onto the belief that it can have its marketing cake and eat it, too. The company, or more directly, the company’s CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is steadfast in maintaining that ads don’t interrupt the user experience of the website. However, major league advertisers have no qualms about making those interruptions – just look at any television for five minutes – and are used to reaching out and grabbing consumers by the collar to force them to look for 5 to 15 to 30 seconds at a time.
Facebook has the daunting task of making its case to advertisers who are used to being able to buy splash page adverts or online ads that will unroll across the screen when you mouse over them. They’re used to paying for prominence by guaranteeing that their ads are seen. To most high-profile advertisers, that is advertising: you make memorable commercials or eye-catching photospreads or snappy jingles that set you apart from all other advertisers. The closest Facebook’s come to replicating that experience for advertisers is by offering up the most ineffective space possible: the log-out screen. If you’re like me or most people, though, you likely just stay logged in to Facebook while you’re browsing. Depending on your security settings, if you close a tab or even the entire browser window, the browser will still keep you logged into Facebook so you never need to sign out. In other words, it’s rare if anybody would even see the ads on the log-out screen and, of the places a business can advertise, while the billboard space may be bigger on that screen, it’s also the least likely place to be seen by a Facebooker.
The immediate problem seems to be a generational divide between Facebook’s new model of advertising and the old guard of advertisers, like GM, who made quite a scene with its decision to pull paid advertisements from Facebook a mere few days before Facebook’s initial public offering. Despite the perceived lack of results from businesses both large and small, Facebook maintains that its new style of advertising by camouflaging advertisements among the actual posts from people a user actually knows can be just as effective has the splash pages of old. Facebook’s Vice President of Global Marketing Solutions, Carolyn Everson, speaking to Ad Age, reiterated the company’s commitment to the plan to blend advertisements as inconspicuously as possible on the platform.
“We have 900+ million people on the platform and our job is to make the advertising on the platform as good and as compelling as content from [users’] parents or their friends or their boyfriends or girlfriends,” said Ms. Everson. “So when a marketer asks for something like that [meaning bigger ads that stand out], that’s just not what works on Facebook, so we would say no.” She said Facebook rarely fields requests for bigger ad units.
The most common complaint is that these subtle advertisements only lead to likes and other engagement but don’t actually turn over a financial kickback. That’s where the crux of Facebook’s whole advertising problem comes in: people still aren’t really sure how to measure the weight of Facebook “likes” against actual new customers and revenue gained from the ad campaign on Facebook. “Liking” something on Facebook is so effortless that people can follow a business Page with hardly any hesitation. Hell, I can “like” things that I honestly detest just to keep up on what my enemy interests are up to. It’s such a meaningless metric when it comes to generating revenue. The only thing it could possible do is add to the overall dossier that Facebook has on its users so as to optimize targeted ads but Facebook hasn’t really scratched the surface of that potential.
Facebook appears to be hedging all of its bets on the value of a psychological residue produced by customers interacting with brands so that, in the long run, these customers will have positive emotional attachments to these businesses whenever they need to purchase something manufactured or provided by said company. Still, publishing quirky quizzes and offering the odd coupon isn’t guaranteed to create customer loyalty any further than momentarily stoking the coals of consumers’ mercenary tendencies just enough for them to pay attention for a second until the next shiny deal comes there way.
Advertisers want to play a long game by going at consumers with ads that you can’t help but see while Facebook’s sticking to the short game of delicately splicing ads into news feeds that, honestly, if you scrolled too fast, you would probably miss them. At same time, Facebook’s counting on that ad subtlety to encourage businesses to engage customers as more than just cattle; or, at least, as intelligent cattle who are worth developing a mom-and-pop-style relationship with. But even if businesses do undertake that advertising challenge, there’s still no proof that such an effort will produce revenue, and without any proof that their efforts are worthwhile, businesses are right to hesitate on advertising on Facebook until there’s some more tangible results to show what actually works on the site.