If you consider that Facebook built a strong mobile ad business
by blurring the line between mobile and desktop inventory when it
developed news-feed ads, the answer looks like "yes."
"[Facebook is] the first big digital ad player that's really
said, you know what, we're not going to draw a big artificial line
between desktop and mobile from an ad product standpoint," said
Chia Chen, Digitas's senior VP-mobile practice lead.
The simplest explanation of Facebook's mobile success is that
its news feed ads that appear in desktop and mobile streams are
delivering results for advertisers -- who are accordingly
increasing their Facebook budgets -- without irritating users to
the extent that they stop opening the app to look at friends'
selfies and engagement photos. And unlike a banner ad, the format
is attention-grabbing and offers a creative canvas to
While much of Facebook's success in mobile has to do with its
unmatched scale and the propensity of smartphone owners to use
their devices for social networking, a lot of it is the result of
company strategy. It elected to integrate the desktop and mobile
user experience, as well as the ad experience.
Thus, news-feed ads look the same on either screen, and
advertisers have been largely agnostic about which they appear on,
according to Marc Grabowski, chief operating officer at the
social-ads company Nanigans and a former top Yahoo sales
executive. (He noted that advertisers have begun to ask for more
granular targeting, by screen or even by mobile device type, with
greater frequency, however.) It's a significant advantage over
companies who've created mobile experiences that are different from
the desktop ones that consumers are used to.
"With Facebook there's a lot more continuity," Mr. Grabowski
said. "Users learn how to view content in a single way. And you can
have continuity between the types of ads you run between desktop
and mobile also."
Pricing is another aspect of that continuity, and there's no
significant difference between the cost of desktop and mobile
news-feed inventory sold in Facebook's auction. The blurring of the
distinction is something that Google is attempting with its
"enhanced campaigns" introduced in February, which allow search
advertisers to manage their AdWords bids across devices and
platforms in a single campaign, Mr. Chen said. (Advertisers place a
desktop bid and then enter what percentage more or less they would
pay to have those ads run on mobile devices.)
The assumption is that the move will lift mobile ad prices --
have dragged down Google's overall ad prices -- when it's fully
rolled out. In a sense, Google looks like it's following Facebook's
Facebook's mobile news-feed ads are designed to blend in with the
flow of posts from friends and brands that users choose to get
updates from. They're so similar to desktop versions that
advertisers can use the same creative for desktop and mobile.
However, the social network has perhaps unintentionally
benefited from the dynamics of its walled garden-style platform,
Mr. Chen observed. When advertisers buy mobile ads on Facebook,
they don't need to have a mobile-optimized website to drive people
to. Instead, their ads will point to a Facebook page, elicit a
"like," or lead to an app install.
"It makes it easy for brands who aren't veterans to play in
mobile," he said.
Though Facebook's integration of content between screens might
be instructive for publishers, some aspects of its success with
mobile are unique because of its scale. The early success of mobile
app install ads -- a "small" but "important" part of its business,
according to chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg -- look like
an example of that. They're flourishing because of Facebook's
massive audience and targeting capabilities, which mobile ad
networks can't replicate, according to Krishna Subramanian, CMO of
the mobile-marketing company Velti.
"I don't really see dollars shifting from Google or Millennial
to Facebook's app installs," he said. "[Facebook is] growing the
market because for once you get a ridiculous amount of scale that
you don't get anywhere else if you're a direct-response
It's also possible that the temperament of Facebook users is a
boon to its mobile ad business. Though users may wish they hadn't
accepted so many friend requests over the years, their bloated
social graphs affect the way they look at content on the network.
Users looking at Facebook on their phones are likely to be engaged,
but not engrossed to the extent that they're upset when they see an
ad, according to David Hewitt, SapientNitro's global mobile lead.
"A tighter group of friends might alienate the ads more," he
said in an email.