Facebook now allows advertisers to use the same targeting tools—like custom audiences—to plan campaigns in its Watch video channel as it does for its other ads. The move, announced today, represents an upgrade to its video ad product in order to better compete with TV.
The new targeting features are part of an advertising program it launched last year called Facebook Reserve, which was established so brands could order commercials similar to how they do on TV. The brands choose what types of shows they want to sponsor, the amount they want to spend and the size of the audience they want to reach.
Facebook Watch, which debuted in 2017, streams shows from top media partners and studios. For instance, Justin Bieber has a new show there called “The Biebers,” which was created by the pop star and Facebook. The social network paid to produce the show.
Erik Geisler, director of North American partnerships at Facebook, says advertisers pressed the company to improve its targeting options in Watch. The targeting had been limited to some slices of Nielsen demographics, which is a way that TV ad buyers are used to doing business. But advertisers told Facebook it could do more. Geisler says advertisers were asking, “you’re Facebook, you have myriad targeting options, how can we leverage that?”
The new targeting options allow the brands to hit regions in the U.S. more granularly, and advertisers can apply custom audiences, which are lists of customers the brands bring into the social network in order to serve messages to those consumers directly.
The updates to the program are an attempt by the social network to marry the targeting that applies to all other Facebook ads to these commercials in Watch. Facebook is making the upgrade just as the rest of the digital video ad marketplace prepares for NewFronts, which is when digital platforms pitch advertisers on their programming to lock in sponsors for the coming year. The Interactive Advertising Bureau plans to stream NewFronts programs in June. At the same time, TV networks are making upfront pitches to advertisers to sell them on their shows.
Also, with traditional TV and cable audiences in decline, new “over-the-top TV,” or OTT, platforms have become more attractive to major sponsors that still need to reach consumers. Companies like Roku and Amazon Fire TV are developing advertising platforms that introduce sophisticated ad targeting into connected TVs.
“Some of the ad offerings that you find in OTT, or why buyers are looking at OTT products or programmatic video products, is to get that enrichment targeting, or they call it advanced targeting,” Geisler says. “And so, [we are] coming to the table with all of that, and delivering it the way Facebook would," he adds. “So our accuracy is obviously, well maybe not obviously, but it’s quite different than what a TV buyer may be buying.”
Facebook says there are 130 million people watching videos that are part of the Reserve program every month in the U.S., up from 100 million people last year. And Facebook wants brands to compare that to TV: The viewership for Reserve is “more than half the size of the U.S. TV universe,” according to Facebook.
Facebook also claims the program reaches more young people in the U.S. than TV on a monthly basis. It said it could hit 38 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds in the U.S. compared to 29 percent of that age group available on TV. Facebook also provided a stat meant to knock out TV, saying it could it hit a target audience with 98 percent effectiveness versus 39 percent effectiveness on TV.
“The advantage Facebook has in video is their sophisticated audience delivery and targeting, so extending this to Reserve makes sense as buyers look at video in a platform agnostic way,” says Noah Mallin, chief of brand strategy for IMGN Media, whose media brands such as Daquan and TryHard target Gen Z audiences. “They are also speaking right to TV buyers with the notion of incremental reach—that they are delivering users that are missed with a pure play TV buy.”
So far, Facebook says it only offers the new advanced targeting to a select few advertisers, and won’t roll it out more broadly until next year. Anheuser-Busch InBev, Intuit and toothpaste brand Pronamel are among the first brands to try it, according to Facebook.
This type of program is harder to run for Facebook, because it guarantees the ad will run alongside a specific set of shows and reach a select audience. That limits the availability of ad inventory. It’s also more expensive, according to advertisers. “Reserve is a larger investment requirement and the cost has netted higher than other platforms,” says one ad buyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, “making it a harder sell especially with COVID. Most brands are currently sticking with tried-and-true to evaluate the best strategy forward.”
Jessica Richards, global head of social at Havas Media, says that the new targeting capabilities will attract more advertisers. "The more granular targeting is a good thing,” Richards says. “It allows them to compete a bit more than previously in the video game. It combines the value of the more sophisticated targeting with standard demo in video. They want to be considered as part of the larger video and TV package."