It's also bought itself an ad server, Atlas, introduced
"lookalike" targeting to let brands market to users similar to
those in their existing customer bases, and begun partnering with
data giants like Acxiom to enable targeting based on offline
Taken together, these developments may better position Facebook
to snag the kind of big global display-ad buys that might otherwise
go to the likes of AOL or Yahoo. But it's a major departure from
its positioning going into its IPO, when it vowed to transform
online advertising with socially-enhanced ad formats like sponsored
stories. It also once characterized its native targeting based on
user data like age, location and avowed interests as inherently
superior to web tracking -- in terms of accuracy as well as privacy.
Social context is now an ingredient in Facebook's marketing
recipe instead of being the whole meal. For the past year, ad
strategy has been driven by the concept of layering the social
network's own interest- and demographic-based targeting with data
marketers gather independently, said Gokul Rajaram, Facebook's
product-management director for ads and pages.
"Social is one of the foundation elements of Facebook
advertising," he said. "We're simply turbocharging and enhancing
ways for marketers to reach people."
While Facebook clearly isn't abandoning social ads, its adoption
of more tried-and-true online-ad models has the advantage of being
more easily explained to CMOs, most of whom never grasped the
significance of accruing fans and "likes," according to Colin
Sutton, social-media director at OMD.
"Social levers were interesting, but buying against specific
audiences and specific audience behavior is much more interesting
for brands and marketers, and much more effective at finding the
right people at the right time," he said.
Mr. Sutton also observed that Facebook's relatively new "custom
audiences" product, which lets brands upload their CRM database to
Facebook to target their existing customer bases, has further
refined audiences, making the social network's native targeting
As a public company with tremendous quarterly pressure to
deliver revenue, Facebook may have a strategic mandate to chase the
easy money that its scale can deliver through a product like FBX.
However, it risks distancing itself from its lofty positioning as a
place for brands to have relationships with people, which resonated
with many marketers, according to Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus.
"It's become less about having a relationship ... and more about
reach," he said. "I would hate to see Facebook just end up being a
publisher like everyone else is."