Social App Network Puts Your Face in Ads

Ever more blue-chip advertisers are adding budget line items for so-called social advertising projects, and ever more ad networks and vendors are lining up to grab a piece of that spend. Firms including Federated Media Publishing and BlogAds have positioned themselves to capitalize on the demand for ad vehicles that are community-driven, conversational, or whatever other descriptor your average CMO might prefer.

SocialMedia, a Palo Alto, CA, based ad network for social applications, is among the firms experimenting with socially driven ad formats. This month it began offering a new unit that incorporates the faces — and in some cases the names — of people in a given ad recipient’s network of friends and acquaintances.

The ads work by aggregating interpersonal interactions from SocialMedia’s application developer partners, and using that data to pinpoint a person’s closest relations. It then serves question-based ads starring those people. Its privacy defense: the ads don’t access more detailed information in user profiles, such as data about users’ relationships or interests.

The company has tested the ad units, dubbed social banners, internally with advertisers including New Line Cinema, Universal Studios, and FedEx. The below is a mock-up SocialMedia posted to its blog yesterday:

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“What an advertiser can do is come up with interesting ways of triggering people socially through ads,” said SocialMedia CEO Seth Goldstein. While he argued this will result in a more interesting and impactful ad, he acknowledged the feature could also result in intrusive or plain annoying experiences if implemented carelessly.

The offering is similar in some respects to Social Ads, an ad type unveiled by Facebook last November when the company unveiled its controversial Beacon program. That option promised to allow advertisers to track relevant brand-related actions taken by individuals and turn them into referral-based advertising by inserting them, along with a photo, into an ad unit served to a person’s Facebook friends. Hence, someone who declared herself a fan of Blockbuster might appear in an ad delivered to her friends, side by side with that endorsement.

“A trusted referral is more effective at influencing someone than the best broadcast message,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said when the format was unveiled.

Facebook notes tens of thousands of advertisers have used its in-house ad platform to place targeted ad buys, but doesn’t disclose the number that have used the Social Ads feature. Anecdotally, some advertisers and agencies have found inventory is very limited for such ad placements, or have held back from testing the system for the same reason.

Social Media claims to serve ads to approximately 25 million unique users a month through its app-based ad network on Facebook and other social networks.

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