It’s no secret that monetizing mobile usage is crucial to Facebook’s future. It seems that the company is already doing well in this regard, despite only having started to seriously dive into mobile advertising last year. However, whenever I open up my Facebook app at the moment, I’m reminded that the company still has a long way to go.
This, my friends, is practically the first thing I saw when I opened up the Facebook app on my iPhone last night; two cheesy ads for online casino apps, with just eight ‘real’ posts from my friends between them:
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What’s more, they each take up practically the whole screen. I have zero interest in gambling and will never click on these ads so they’re just an invasion of my screen space. Seriously, it’s not just 888 (with whom Facebook recently partnered in the UK, incidentally), I regularly get ads for bookmakers Paddy Power and William Hill too – it’s almost like someone wants me to start gambling.
In Facebook’s defence, this isn’t strictly its fault. Advertisers can use the tools it provides to specify the ages, genders, locations, likes and interests of the people they target. The problem comes when advertisers use those tools badly and ads are targeted poorly.
Sure, the same problem is apparent on the desktop, but the ads there are such a small part of the overall screen space that they’re of marginal annoyance. On a mobile screen, the problem is far more acute. Suddenly there’s a former Australian cricket superstar taking up most of my screen asking me to gamble – it’s invasive and makes me feel less inclined to use Facebook’s mobile app.
In the early days of social media, startups promised us innovative new monetization strategies – “We’re not sure how we’ll make money yet, but all that social data we’re collecting will mean we can do something really innovative,” was the general message from many a startup founder. For Facebook sadly, it seems that all the data it has about me is just helping advertisers target really irrelevant display ads at my smartphone screen.
The next generation of mobile advertising needs to be much smarter. Let’s see technology that doesn’t just target ads based on obvious demographic and interest information. Let’s see ads that more intelligently predict the best people to target things at. Check in at a bookmaker’s shop regularly? Maybe you’ll like a gambling app! Regularly rack up crazy amounts of Nike Fuel and share the fact on Facebook and mention your running club in lots of status updates? This energy drink may be of interest. Forget advertisers assuming they know who will be interested in their ads, social data is becoming rich enough that there’s room for something smarter.
In the meantime, Facebook could benefit from a way of making clear that a certain mobile app isn’t relevant. ‘Hide this advert’ and ‘Hide all ads from (x advertiser)’ are useful options on the desktop version of Facebook – let’s see them in the mobile apps too. Ads are a fact of life and I’m happy to be advertised to, but at least let me fine-tune their relevance.
Facebook’s mobile advertising appears to be serving its bank balance well. It says that its mobile app install ads have seen 8-10 times greater reach and a 50% better click-through rate compared to other mobile ad buys for some Preferred Marketing Developer partners. However, the company needs to make sure that those ads are serving its users just as effectively. Tacky gambling ads just don’t make Facebook feel like a place I want to spend time in.
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