Facebook is giving advertisers new safety measures, allowing brands to choose where their messages appear before the ads go live, via whitelists that pre-select the publishers and video makers they support.
Advertisers, especially major consumer product brands and brands with family-friendly images to protect, have been reluctant to embrace all of Facebook’s advertising products due to a lack of such control. But the social network hopes to change that with the brand safety tools announced on Wednesday.
“This week’s announcement is part of a two-plus year journey that we’ve been on to ensure that we provide advertisers with as many controls as possible to help their brands feel safe and secure being on our platform,” says Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s VP of global marketing solutions.
Whitelists vs. blocklists
On Wednesday, Facebook touted the ability to create whitelists, which are a more proactive tool compared to blocklists, the previous standard of safety. Blocklists and whitelists are both ways to manage where ads run on Facebook Audience Network, which is the wider world of websites and apps that carry ads from the social network.
Whitelists create a pool of pre-approved sites and apps, avoiding all others. While Blocklists are a more blunt instrument; brands can only scratch off the sites they want to avoid, leaving all the others open. That requires a brand to know every possible variant of content they want to avoid, whereas with a whitelist they just name the properties that meet their approval.
Greater control for brands
Facebook also developed new ways of reporting to advertisers after the ad campaigns have run, so it is easier to get a rundown of exactly where the ads appeared. Also, there is now a way to apply brand-safety settings to all the campaigns for a given brand, instead of having to adjust the settings for every campaign.
“We will allow advertisers to do it at the account level, versus campaign [level],” Everson said, during a phone interview on Tuesday. “If I’m Pampers or Starbucks, and I want to ensure that my brand-safety controls are in place for everything I do, I can just do it once at the ad-account level and not have to go into the campaign-specific level, which was a big burden.”
Facebook also is now working with advertising technology firm Zefr, which joins Open Slate, Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify as partners of the social platform, with the ability to help brands manage their brand-safety regimes.
Cleaning up the wild west
Since 2017, Facebook and Everson have been dealing with an antsy ad world, concerned about a host of issues such as measuring ads accurately and the security of consumers’ data. At Advertising Week 2017, Everson announced that Facebook would start opening to third-party measurement partners, independent companies that could help brands understand how their media performs on the platform.
Facebook’s issues only grew from there, however, as the fallout from the 2016 presidential election became clearer. Facebook and other platforms had been helping support networks of bad actors that used the social network to churn out misinformation, driving users to spam-filled websites that served ads. These were corners of the web that brands no longer wanted to sponsor.
Facebook's brand safety push has been in full swing since last week, when the company released its latest "transparency report," which is a tally of all the recent actions taken to remove illicit posts from Facebook and Instagram. Facebook discloses how it detects spam, illegal activity, sexually explicit images and terrorist propaganda. Also, Facebook has been trying to assure brands about its plan to secure the platform during the 2020 election season.
Ad revenue remains strong
Amid all the turmoil, Facebook’s ad revenue has not suffered. In 2017, the company generated $41 billion in revenue; in 2018 that rose to $56 billion; and in just the first nine months of 2019 it has already generated $50 billion. However, some of Facebook’s major ad initiatives have been hampered.
For instance, the Facebook Audience Network has been seen as off-limits by many brands, worried about having their ads show up in undesirable settings. “There are some advertisers who will not run on audience network because of a lack of transparency,” says Meghan Myszkowski, VP and head of social at Essence Global.
The new controls also apply to videos on Facebook, many of which are produced by prominent publishing partners like BuzzFeed, Viacom, Insider and others. Brands can set their whitelists to choose which publishers to patron.
Myszkowski says that the changes could help calm the major advertisers that had been on the sidelines of products like audience network and videos. “Creating more levers of control around audience network and layering in more data transparency after an ad runs there,” Myszkowski says, “is the only way to attract large-scale advertisers.”