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Facebook Drops 'Sponsored Stories' As It Pares Down Ad Formats

Social Network Has 27 Ad Products But Will Cut That Number by More than Half in Next 6 Months

By Published on . 2

Facebook announced today that it's reducing the number of available ad products from 27 to less than half that amount over the next six months.

While the "streamlining" was characterized as a work in progress, one thing that's on the chopping block is "sponsored stories" as a standalone product. Introduced in 2011 and once the core of Facebook's strategy to promote its ads product as uniquely social, sponsored stories contain a social layer and inform users if their friends have engaged with a brand on the platform (by liking or commenting on one of its posts, for example.)

Facebook drops
Facebook drops

There are currently 13 different types of sponsored stories (including one that delivers context about friends who have played with a game.) By the end of the third quarter or the beginning of the fourth, Facebook intends to direct advertisers to buy one ad format that will include the richest social context available. (And in the event that no social context is available -- meaning a user's friends haven't engaged with the brand -- a more stripped-down news-feed ad with just a picture and text would appear, for example.)

"Sponsored stories as an idea doesn't go away. Sponsored stories as a product goes away," said Brian Boland, Facebook's product marketing director.

Facebook is also intending to redesign the ads interface to focus on "objectives" -- such as mobile app installs, online sales and foot traffic -- rather than a menu of ad product types that are potentially confusing for marketers.

"We're going to solidify on a smaller number of formats that we think are better," said Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's engineering director. He also noted that he expects the changes to help marketers optimize their ad buys and subsequently make them drive better results at a lower price. "We're going to help them make better decisions up front by reducing the number of decisions they have to make."

While cutting the clutter of redundant ad units may help advertisers zero in on what's truly useful for their business, retiring "sponsored stories" as a brand also marks Facebook taking another small step away from its past reliance on social ads to explain its value to marketers. In its new vision presented today, social context is one ingredient in the Facebook ads cocktail, but it's no longer a standalone ad product.

Facebook's plan is reminiscent of Google's move in February to streamline AdWords; in Google's case, the simplication was intended to urge advertisers to spread their bids to mobile.

Other ad units that will soon rest in peace -- as soon as July -- are "questions" and "online offers." Instead of buying an ad unit with convoluted social context showing when a user's friend had answered a question posed by a brand, marketers will instead be directed to pose the question directly in a news-feed post, for example. And while "offers" for online sales are being phased out, they'll remain in play for in-store deals.

Tim Peterson contributing.

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