Facebook Adopts Traditional Buying, Measurement Tactics to Woo TV Advertisers

Brands Can Buy Video Ads Based on Rating Points Similar to Nielsen's GRP

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Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
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Facebook has 1.49 billion people that use the social network every month, and it has a lot of data about that audience that it can use to pinpoint and measure advertisers' campaigns in ways that weren't possible with traditional media. Yet despite its size and digital savvy, the company still has to accommodate old-world ad-buying and measurement methods if it wants to bring more brands' TV budgets online.

Now Facebook is adopting some old-school techniques, like basing video ad buying on Nielsen's panel-based measurement system and using in-app polls for mobile ad measurement, to bring more traditional brands into the fold. It hopes to eventually upgrade them to its new-school techniques, like an autopilot option it's adding for brand awareness campaigns.

"We know the destination," said Carolyn Everson, VP-global marketing solutions, Facebook. "The question is how do you best get there. And for us we have found by trying to provide solutions along the way that can bridge the gap is the better approach than being the former approach, which is no, everyone has to start doing it this new way."

Through a new ad-buying option called target rating point buying, or TRP buying, Facebook is introducing its own spin on Nielsen's gross rating points that TV advertisers have used for decades. Brands will be able to use Nielsen's measurement tools to see that their Facebook buy hit their target audience and evaluate the results against their Nielsen-measured TV campaigns.

"In many ways it might look like we are working in the past. Yet the way I try to think about it is building a bridge to the future," said Ms. Everson.

Here's how TRP buying will work: In a throwback to pre-programmatic buying processes, advertisers and agencies will need to call or email a Facebook sales rep with the details of the video ad campaign they want to run. The brand or agency will tell Facebook the age and gender of the audience they're looking to target and what share of that audience on Facebook they want to buy ads against. The rep will then quote them prices for maximum reach, minimum cost per ratings point or a combination of the two, and the brand or agency will have up to seven days to complete the deal.

"It's very much in many ways how TV is bought today where the advertiser or the agency can submit their budget and their reach goals and how many [gross rating points] they're looking to achieve, and we will be able to satisfy that request," Ms. Everson said.

The TRP buying option is Facebook's way of pouncing on TV's vulnerability in light of declining viewership, particularly among millennials, and pointing advertisers' attentions away from the big screen to the smartphone screen. With TRP buying, Facebook's sales pitch to TV advertisers becomes, "Hey, we have that audience you can't really buy on TV anymore, and we'll let you buy ads against them the way you always have."

"What we decided to do was to build a bridge between the old, traditional medium of how TV is bought and Facebook mobile video to try to offer opportunities for marketers to reach very specific audiences at highly efficient pricing," Ms. Everson said.

To compare Facebook and TV, Facebook and Nielsen measured 42 U.S. campaigns that ran on both TV and Facebook and claim that the Facebook ad impressions were twice as likely to reach the brands' target audience as TV.

Target rating point buying will be available in the same the markets that Nielsen's digital ad ratings are available: the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Australia and Brazil. While the buying option will initially only apply to Facebook's video ads, it will extend to Instagram ads in the first quarter of 2016, Ms. Everson said.

If brands want more information about how people are responding to their ads, Facebook is expanding the ways that brands can survey its users. The company began running polls on its mobile properties earlier this year with Nielsen to ask people whether they remember a mobile ad or whether the ad led them to buy the advertised product. Now it's adding Millward Brown Digital to the mix to give brands some variety.

If the TRP buying option and mobile polling feature are attempts to make traditional advertisers more comfortable buying Facebook's video and mobile ads, then another new ad-buying option called "brand awareness optimization" is what Facebook will hope to sell those advertisers once they're agreeable enough to let Facebook take over.

Brands can use the brand awareness optimization option to tell Facebook to aim their campaigns at the largest amount of people who will likely pay the most attention to their ads. Like existing options to make sure Facebook shows an ad to the people most likely to install an app or click on an ad, Facebook is positioning the brand awareness optimization option as a way for a brand to set a campaign's objective -- in this case raising the profile of a product or brand among a large number of the right people -- and put the campaign on cruise control while algorithms steer those ads to the right people's news feeds.

"What we're trying to do is balance not only the reach objectives but the dwell time people spend with an ad. It's all built into the algorithm on how an ad is delivered," Ms. Everson said.

As with cruise control, brands will need to trust Facebook's technology. Facebook will not be letting brands specify how many people should see the ad or how long they should be paying attention to it. Instead the company's algorithms will calibrate that attention threshold based on internal data about how different types of audiences interact with ads and content. For example, older folks are slower when scrolling through their news feeds than the average Facebook user, so Facebook's algorithm will take that into account when determining who to show an ad and ensure that it doesn't skew the campaign toward that older audience in order to juice a campaign's attention. After the campaign has run, brands will be able to view reports detailing how much time people spent with an ad.

In addition to new ad-buying process and measurement options, Facebook is also adding a new ad format for brands to buy. The company is introducing video to its slideshow-like carousel format, which lets brands include several ads within one gallery that people can swipe through to see each ad in sequence.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Facebook and Nielsen had tested the TRP buying method across 42 campaigns and measured that Facebook ad impressions were twice as likely to reach brands' target audiences as TV. After the article published, a Facebook spokesman clarified that the study did not involve TRP buying. Ad Age regrets the error.