The perception of programmatic ad buying has undergone a dramatic shift in about half a decade, traveling from skepticism, to widespread adoption, to its current increased level of scrutiny. With the rise in ad blocking, following concerns about viewability and bot traffic, online advertising today feels like an industry under siege. Advertisers and agencies that have invested in technology stacks for buying display and video should rightfully be second-guessing themselves.
While all of this transpired, the social channel, and especially Facebook, experienced a narrative shift of its own. While social came under fire in the early days for not fitting into the extant online advertising model, it's now emerged as one of the most viable alternative to a problem-riddled "open" web of exchanges and buying platforms. Rather than fit in, it appears that social has rewritten the rules, and could potentially mark a new way to buy digital campaigns, but only if advertisers make a philosophical shift in what they value.
Facebook has very publicly tried to address some of the problems plaguing the open web, the most recent effort being guaranteed 100 percent viewable ad impressions supported by measurement from Moat. This is huge, because by some estimates as much as one third of all paid impressions across the web originate from Facebook, and agencies have pushed for some form of third-party verification on the network.
For the other two-thirds of available impressions on the open web, viewability rates are less than encouraging. Google reported that the average publisher viewability at 50.2 percent a year ago, while Xaxis finds that only 40 percent of impressions are viewable, according to AdExchanger. So advertisers have a choice -- use Facebook's third to deliver in-view impressions, or take their chances on the open web, where as little as half of the impressions are viewable.
That fact alone should make Facebook incredibly appealing to those dissatisfied with programmatic, but there's another philosophical change required of advertisers. One of the biggest drivers of open-web programmatic ad buying has been that once advertisers identify and target an audience, they can control the frequency of their messages. This frequency capping has been one of the major tenants of online advertising, as brands and agencies have come to fear the negative effects of overexposure.
Yet Facebook's scale is so large that frequency capping is almost irrelevant, unless the advertiser leverages the most detailed targeting possible. This is one of the network's strengths, and they are extending this massive reach through acquisitions like LiveRail, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Once the network fully deploys Atlas, it will be able to help advertisers determine where it's best to serve each ad within this growing ecosystem.
Advertisers focused on the open web are likely looking at frequency and viewability and feeling that they are being forced to make a choice between the two. Facebook makes it so that brands don't have to choose -- they can have viewability, and they can employ frequency capping if needed. Social platforms have become so effective that it may be time for advertisers to trust the delivery mechanism and simply measure the effectiveness of the ads themselves, rather than fret about viewability metrics or frequency caps.
What we're seeing, after years of building ad products, is that Facebook hasn't built something to exist within a fundamentally flawed advertising system, but to replace it. That may be an audacious claim, but it gets more believable each day. The internet is increasingly becoming Facebook-addressable, and as audiences shift to mobile, Facebook is one of the few players that can realistically tie consumers to desktop activity. While the rest of the world preps for the end of cookies, Facebook and its social network peers are already dominating on mobile.
Furthermore, Facebook, consumers can't block ads. So while blocking is becoming the scourge of the open web and the programmatic technology used to buy ads, it's not a problem on social. The open web is clunky, and Facebook is hanging its hat on the fact that is has better data, a more interesting user experience, and a customizable advertising experience -- while previous faults, like a lack of measurability and attribution, are being addressed.
Marketers may still want control of how frequently consumers see their ads, but what happens if half of the inventory they'd like to buy is suddenly unavailable, either via ad blocking, viewability issues, or because it's fraudulent? The prognosis that Facebook will completely reinvent advertising may or may not turn out to be true, but it's impossible to deny the appeal of a platform that avoids all those issues. Social grants advertisers the safety they want -- the question is if they're willing to bend their philosophies to get the results they want.
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