Facebook are having to act promptly and quickly to avoid a hugely damaging advertiser boycott, as it emerges that the social media giant has been serving adverts in a ‘brand unsafe environment’. This has caused leading advertisers like Marks & Spencer’s to pull their adverts off of the Facebook platform, with other blue-chip names threatening to do likewise.
The offending page was entitled ‘cute and gay boys’ and featured pictures of teenage (and perhaps younger) boys, with an advert from BSkyB promoting a free M&S voucher when the user takes up the Sky offering. Both Sky and M&S reguarly utilise the advanced demographic ad targeting made possible by Facebook’s user data to run large-scale advertising campaigns, with huge budgets, and both are now pulling their campaigns off of Facebook.
In response, Facebook will begin the largest revamp of their advertising mechanics since the launch of FBX – their native advertising exchange – in an attempt to cut out the source of the problem quickly, before revenues nosedive. This is a clear indication of just how seriously Facebook are taking this problem.
During its early days as an advertising platform, Facebook struggled to attract the types of premium brands who pay top dollar for ad space. The Facebook market was instead largely inundated by ‘cheaper’ ad units,which instead of trying to sell premium cars where instead trying to get members to ‘hook up’.
In their Post-IPO world, where share prices are directly linked to revenue performance – and advertising is of paramount importance in that regard for Facebook – it is natural that Facebook will work to rectify this immediately.
The problem relates to the placement of advertisements next to ‘offensive content’. Such offensive content can range from the more obvious, including pornography and racially insensitive material, through to gambling related content and pages that use lewd language.
Facebook will now begin restricting the pages where ads can appear, utilising contextual technology in order to blacklist any offensive pages. Whilst this will limit the volume of advertising real estate, it is intended to give the big brand advertisers the confidence to re-commence their campaigns.
In the upside down world of Facebook’s version of online publishing, more monetisable page impressions don’t automatically correlate to more ad revenues. Typically, web publishers have a fairly direct relationship between the amount of available ad inventory and the amount of money that they generate. This is especially true for the so-called ‘premium publishers’, where inventory is scarce and thus valuable.
Facebook though, have the opposite problem. They have so much ad inventory, due to their huge amount of active users and the vast amount of page impression that they drive, that the challenge becomes filling them. Facebook therefore features a huge amount of remnant advertising, where the rates can be 5% (or even less) of what they can achieve from advertisers like Sky and M&S.
Facebook have account managers and advertising planners who work with such brand advertisers in order to set up these large agency booked campaigns. Such campaigns are so valuable for Facebook because they are working directly with the advertising client in order to deliver additional value from their data pool. As this data is uniquely available on Facebook, they are thus able to charge very high rates for these campaigns. Managed right, the client is also able to get proportionally higher returns from these campaigns, making everybody happy.
So as a company, Facebook needs to do everything in their power to win these brand campaigns. Therefore this issue has gone right to the top, and the company moved to update their company blog in order to directly address the situation, and their response to it:
“We recognize we need to do more to prevent situations where ads are displayed alongside controversial Pages and Groups. So we are taking action.”
Fortunately, this is not an awfully difficult problem to resolve. From Monday, any pages that carry any violent, sexual or racial content – even if it doesn’t break Facebook’s rules – will no longer carry adverts.
It seems that Facebook will go further though. According to one source, Facebook will create a “gold standard”, featuring in the region of 10,000 pages that are pre-screened and thus deemed suitable for serious brand adverts. There will then be a human verification process, whereby new pages can be added to the safe-list.
Fortunately, the big brand advertisers have not closed their door to Facebook yet, including Sky. Sky moved to state that they look forward to discussing opportunities with Facebook and will keep the situation ‘under review’.
A spokesman for BSkyB told the BBC: “We have asked Facebook to devise safeguards to ensure our content does not appear alongside inappropriate material in the future.
“We will review the situation in due course.” For now, all Facebook ads for Sky and M&S remain suspended.