Facebook Looks to Bring Ads to Your Phone's 'Home' Screen

Would You Buy a Cheaper Phone In Exchange for More Ads?

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Facebook is eyeing new mobile-ad real estate on the smartphone home screens and this month will launch its first major marketing campaign to convince consumers that they want the social network's tentacles reaching into every corner of their mobile lives.

Facebook on an HTC phone
Facebook on an HTC phone
There's no telling when Facebook will integrate ads into Home -- which is not a separate operating system; CEO Mark Zuckerberg described it at last week's launch event as "a whole lot deeper than any other app" -- but Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged it's only a matter of time.

Home, available April 12 through Google Play for several Android devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S III, lets consumers enable an ever-changing rotation of visual content from their Facebook friends called "cover feed" on their home and lock screens -- where ads will eventually also go. Home's other core functionality is to let people message their Facebook friends, whose profile photos will pop up as small "chat heads," while doing any task on their phones.

To claim the ad space, Facebook needs to unlock a significant revenue opportunity by convincing people with Android phones -- some 43.5% of U.S. smartphone users last year, according to eMarketer -- to start thinking differently about what their phones are really for.

The company will launch its first major marketing campaign, which includes a Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.-made TV spot that will hit broadcast TV this month. The company's head of consumer marketing, Rebecca Van Dyck, a former Apple marketer who worked on the iPhone launch, is behind the creative. A rough cut of the spot, screened at the launch event, showed a man aboard a plane encountering characters from his Facebook home screen, including cats, Vegas-style performers and his nephew.

The campaign will also use Facebook ad products like mobile news-feed ads and log-out ads, but no other paid digital marketing.

The marketing investment is explained by Facebook's desire to accelerate its already fast-growing mobile-ad revenue, which eMarketer expects to reach $1.53 billion this year, up from $470.7 million in 2012. It's also possible that the feature, if widely adopted, could one day furnish a rich stream of data about users' app activity for ad targeting.

Facebook Home may also get a marketing assist from AT&T and HTC, the respective carrier and maker of a new device called HTC First, which will come with the feature preloaded and sell for $99. The device is said to incorporate notifications from other apps, but Mr. Zuckerberg observed that the main difference from the Google Play app was having Facebook Home accessible without having "to jump through any hoops."

AT&T is likely to contribute to the device's ad campaign, given its history of pitching in for devices it carries exclusively, like the original iPhone. AT&T declined to comment, and HTC didn't return requests for comment.

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