As a brand, do you find it hard to put your message in front of the right audience?
This used to be the major challenge. The entire construct of the advertising industry was built on the scarcity model. There was only a finite number of pages in the newspaper allotted to advertising. There were only so many commercial breaks during some of prime time's biggest TV shows, and if you didn't get your spot on the local radio morning program, they were only on air for a brief time because traffic only lasts for a couple of hours if you want that captive audience. The fact is that our definition of "captive audience" has shifted and morphed significantly since the popularization of the Internet. Do consumers visit just one site that they're loyal too (i.e. the old portal model of Yahoo, AOL, etc...) or do they visit multiple sites in a more chaotic fashion across multiple devices (computer screen, tablet, smartphone, etc...)?
Putting your ads everywhere.
In a new world where one Web page can house multiple ads or where one significant article can be laid out on multiple Web pages (to generate more pageviews and, hence, more ad impressions), the scarcity model begins to fall apart. If your brand can post your commercial to YouTube and generate tens of millions of views (which is common for ads that are remarkable) for free, what does that say when you have to do a media buy with a guarantee that you will generate fewer impressions? Do brands still feel that they struggle to get their message in front of consumers? The answer is: yes. But, they feel this way not because it's expensive to advertise or because there is a lack of substantive places to put those ads. They feel this way because it's hard to make a message standout in such a crowded environment.
Don't kid yourself: the environment is getting more and more crowded.
One of the things I loved about Google AdWords happened with the advent of AdSense. The ability for a blog (or website or whatever) to have targeted advertising run on sites that were more relevant than random run of network, generic, advertising sounded promising. For some, this has worked magically and other still struggle with it. Beyond the politics and business of Google, the untethering of their advertising model and creation of a veritable advertising network was impressive. Google didn't invent the advertising network and many other media companies have jumped on that train and turned it into a significant business in the online spaces.
Is this the plan for Facebook?
On July 15th, 2012, Business Insider ran a new item titled, This Diagram Explains Facebook's Next $10 Billion Business. From the article: "Our source says Facebook's next $10 billion business (which would be its first)... will sell ad inventory on third-party sites and target it using its own data AND third-party data. Our source calls this business 'FaceSense' because it will compete with Google's ad network, Ad Sense. Ad Sense does about $2.5 billion in revenue per quarter; hence our source's $10 billion figure." It does feel right, doesn't it? If Facebook can promise to deliver more relevant and contextual advertising to other publishers based on their data and additional third-party analytics, who wouldn't bite at the opportunity.
The problem is that we're only talking about advertising.
The media companies are going to pounce on this. As will most brands and publishers. They'll be excited by the targeting and re-targeting capabilities, but all of these bright and shiny objects will obscure the bigger opportunity: it's not about the advertising... it's about the marketing. I don't believe that brands need more places to put their ads. I do believe that Facebook has amazing capabilities to help brands connect - in a deeper and more profound way - with their consumers. A Facebook ad exchange seems like a smart enough cash grab, but I'm hopeful that they will soon evolve into thinking about what the social graph means to people and how they can better connect to the companies that they care about. If, in the end, the only money that Facebook makes is from taking their data and helping brands better target ads on other media properties, something tells me that the majority of users will continue to do what they've done to date: ignore online advertising because there's a lot of it and it's everywhere. Don't confuse what I'm saying here: smart brands are doing great things with targeting, awareness and drilling down to better understand where their consumers are playing, but blasting a message in front of that experience is only a small slice of a much bigger pie.
It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Do you think this is Facebook's future?