Facebook Ads Are NOT Display Ads

Every marketing budget is a struggle – a compromise between the grand plans you wish you could afford and the never-quite-enough budget that you actually have to work with. Not only have your goals increased, but the regions, channels, and devices across which you have to reach your target populations have exploded. With many more opportunities to spend money, you have to keep an even more critical eye to understand all your options and prioritize spend against your goals.

One exploding area for marketing budget is Facebook ads. Facebook advertising has grown with the increasing Facebook population and with the addition of new ad units including mobile ads. Where does this budget come from? What contracts to make room for a new or increased Facebook ad budget since it is rare these days that a new budget appears from the budget fairies?

Many see Facebook ads as another form of display advertising and they do have some things in common. Both are visual, can be highly targeted, and interruptive. Both appear and work very differently from search ads, which remain the non-negotiable element of most plans given their strong conversion tracking ability. Both Facebook ads and display advertising can reach targeted populations with engaging visual messaging that creates awareness and motivates actions, but the similarities are far fewer than the differences. The nature of the social environment, the mindset of consumers while in social mode, as well as the different platform capabilities make social advertising a different world from display.

Display advertising is good at generating awareness but also transactions, sign-ups, downloads, and other conversions. New targeting and creative options in display have expanded conversion opportunities and using view-through conversions in third-party display tracking allows for greater understanding and attribution of the actual impact of the buy. With Facebook ads you can generally track only click-based activity. It has also been our experience that display advertising does a better job assisting the conversions you may see in other channels, like search or shopping engines.

For niche audiences, the granular targeting capabilities of Facebook often make it a cost-efficient buy. Facebook ads perform best when used not to drive direct to conversion or purchase but when used to drive to a richer brand experience such as a video, interactive survey, game, promotion, or other app that captures a user’s very divided digital attention and keeps her engaged for a longer period of time before asking her to do anything. Apps also offer the opportunity for interactions on Facebook to be quickly distributed and shared generating earned media. This makes an ad investment work exponentially harder and brings performance metrics like CPA down.

Some of the most effective Facebook ad types include Promoted Posts and Sponsored Stories, which allow advertisers to use non-traditional ad messaging and ad units such as user- and page-generated posts and actions. All these benefits also make it an ideal channel to test messaging and collect performance insights very quickly and cost-effectively and have led in large part to brands investing further in Facebook ads.

Facebook ads do offer the benefit of low-cost and flexible creative – often taking just minutes to create and change short launch times, no vendor negotiations, no spend minimums, and no third-party serving fees. Facebook has wisely kept the ad-buying experience simple and streamlined, yet still manages to offer powerful opportunities for deeper demo targeting and the unique ability to tie in to social interactions via the Open Graph where many actions can be showcased as ads that behave as brand endorsements by friends. This truly captures digital word-of-mouth and adds a layer of credibility to Facebook ads where a trusted party has participated in the messaging, brand, experience, product, or offer.

Facebook ads, however, are often less successful from a percentage basis than good display ads in capturing attention and action within their environment because social interactions are more personal and engrossing than other surfing or site experiences. Display plans also offer options with more prominent ads you can’t ignore like page takeovers or pre-rolls. Creative restrictions such as copy size limitations and small image sizes without any opportunity for rich media such as animation, audio, or video limit Facebook ads.

While Facebook ads and display advertising are vastly different, you may still have to use one budget to fund both these and other digital efforts. When you make those hard choices it should come down to a prioritization and a best fit against your specific goals and resources.

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