This is my considered take on the story set to define multiple industries in 2017 – two enormous social platforms battling for the biggest prize in advertising, the $200 billion spent on TV each year.
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Act 1 – The big blue monster smells blood…
Small changes in the language used by a brand can be very revealing if you look carefully and join dots.
And Facebook knows the importance of semantics better than anyone.
At launch, Facebook’s business platform emphasised the power of precision targeting, personalisation and cost effectiveness. Minimising ‘wastage’ was their USP, a counterpoint to the traditional mediums of print, radio and, of course, T.V.
Facebook Advertising 1.0 was about direct marketing and performed very well in direct response.
But across 2015 and 2016, the language began to change. Slowly at first, but then all of a sudden, Facebook started to emphasise its ability to generate broad, mass awareness. Advertisers were told that when buying ads, ‘optimising for reach’ gave the best bang for your buck. Language like ‘personalised marketing’ was replaced with a focus put on ‘scale’.
Because Facebook is money hungry and it spotted a huge opportunity.
Like a cocky young lion stalking an unsure middle aged zebra, it saw a chance to take an even bigger bite out of global ad spend as the TV/digital scales starts to balance up.
Brand versus direct
Direct marketing is focused at the bottom of the marketing funnel, and that’s great. But the problem with hyper-targeting is that in seeking out the perfect potential customer, advertisers risk ignoring the wider pool of possible customers.
Facebook realised that in focusing on precision, it was disregarding the need for brands to speak to a wide audience, to have cultural impact and to target vast swathes of people, just like T.V. allowed them to do.
So it made the strategic decision to change tact.
Brand advertising – making end users aware of your product in the first place, or just building affinity for your brand as an investment in some future payoff – is still as necessary as ever. Despite the targeting opportunities of digital, reaching lots of people with salient, noticeable advertising is still the best way for brands to win share.
Just ask Byron Sharp.
One of the biggest ‘negative’ Facebook stories last year was P&G’s admission that they were scaling back on targeted advertising, and would refocus on much broader brand campaigns (but still invest the same amount in Facebook). Many saw this as a bad story for Facebook. But the more cynical among us saw it as a carefully orchestrated P.R. move that made advertisers sit up and see Facebook as a brand building, rather than a direct response option on their media plan.
Much of the brand advertising money on TV will eventually split and go somewhere. It’s not going to go to Google, who are kings of direct, so why not to Facebook, the other giant in the digital ad duopoly?
It’s certainly big enough – close to one-fifth of the world’s population checks Facebook daily, there are already more than 4 million active monthly advertisers using the platform and video makes up an increasingly important part of its business.
“The more they can make themselves like TV, it will certainly better position them for those ad dollars.” Kieley Taylor, GroupM
Brand advertising is more lucrative, often more beautiful and less intrusive than a lot of direct marketing. With Facebook’s core focus on user attention, not annoying people but still increasing ad load, trying to offer a platform for media spend that’s like T.V. but better makes sense.
And they haven’t just talked the talk.
Almost every major strategic move that Facebook has announced over the last 12 months has a connection to grabbing a slice of the brand T.V. pie.
The launch of live video was the first indication. Facebook spent more than $50 million paying publishers and celebrities to create live content, and changed its algorithm to heavily prioritise it in the feed. It also spent heavily on an advertising campaign for Live, intriguingly paying for heavy T.V. ad break rotation to promote it.
But ‘Live’ hasn’t been the only addition in the effort to become more like, and ultimately usurp TV.
In 2016, Nichola Mendelsohn, the company’s VP for EMEA, said that she expected Facebook to be all-video within five years, echoing similar comments by company Zuckerberg.
Just like TV advertising, these are video adverts that will interrupt users mid video.
The company has partnered with Nielsen, the entity most associated with TV ratings measurement and last week announced that it was also ‘trying to give marketers a more accurate grasp of how ads on the social network compare to other media like television’ by creating a new modelling tool that compares its ads to T.V.
And there’s more.
In the past week, Facebook has announced that it’s preparing an app for set-top TV boxes, a sort of Hulu/Netflix lite if we’re to believe the news. It will now rank longer videos with high completion rates more favourably in the newsfeed. And, like Netflix and Amazon, original programming is in the offing too. Facebook will look to licence TV-quality shows to be available on the app, and will look to current Facebook video publishers too. According to Kurt Wagner or Recode:
“As part of a larger effort led by Facebook exec Ricky Van Veen, Facebook is pushing publishers to create longer, premium video content. The hope is to get more high-quality video onto the platform and into your News Feed — the kind of stuff, presumably, you might find on Netflix.”
Oh, and Facebook has just this week signed an MTV executive to create original content.
To anyone smart enough to join the dots, the trend line seems obvious.
From a few small copy and language changes on their advertising platform in 2015, Facebook has grown to now offer mid-roll ads on long form content that’s shown on TV and measured in the same way traditional TV is measured.
Facebook really wants its slice of that big tasty TV pie.
Act 2 – A new challenger arrives…
It’s not just Facebook that’s trying to make a dent in TV advertising.
Snapchat is positively gunning for it. Just like Facebook, Snapchat is stealing vast amounts of attention with its video heavy social app. In its IPO filing last week, boasted of 10 billion videos a day.
But unlike Facebook, which initially focused on targeting and personalisation, Snapchat is a platform that’s purpose built to take brand spend away from traditional ‘brand’ channels. It’s much closer to ‘TV designed for your phone’ than its big blue brother has ever been.
Snap is in a perfect position to create a “mobile TV” experience with a menu of programs designed for an attention-short, vertical-video-watching audience. Its UX is already set up in a ‘channels’ format, just like TV, and it doesn’t hurt that the app over indexes heavily in the 18-34 bracket, where TV viewership has been been falling at around 4 percent a year since 2012.
Another trump card is the nature of video consumption on the platform. With Facebook, video is consumed in a stream, surrounded by other pieces of content. On Snapchat, the vertical video on on offer is far more immersive, and delivers much higher attention for brands. Snapchat ads are also fun to watch. Taco Bell and Gatorade have both generated enormous levels of engagement with branded filters, in return for enormous spend.
Snapchat’s content strategy is focused on partnering with networks to develop entertainment programming and it has strong existing partnerships with brands like CNN, Buzzfeed, ESPN and others. In August, the company announced it had partnered with NBC to develop Snapchat-specific episodes of some of its hit shows, including “The Voice”, “Saturday Night Live”, and “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.” It has also worked with BBC on Snapchat tailored versions of the incredible hit ‘Planet Earth‘ and is planning unscripted drama series called ‘Snapchat Shows‘.
The company has also made some intriguing hires. In a move that clearly flagged future intentions, former Viacom sales head Jeff Lucas, a well renowned exec in the TV world with strong connections to US adland was hired as Snapchat’s vice president and head of global sales.
Ad spend has flowed in to boot.
According to Martin Sorrell, WPP spent $90 million with Snapchat in 2016 — having only projected to spend around $20 – $30 million. This year, Snap wants $100 million to $200 million in 2017 commitments from WPP, Omnicom and other ad companies. According to reports, at CES last month the company pitched a room full of Publicis executives and clients, making the case for why it should soak up TV spend.
That’s fightin’ talk, and for good reason. Snap’s IPO puts it at a valuation north of $20 billion. If it’s to realise that, it will need to win its battle to take a slice of the TV pie.
That’s a riskier bet than Facebook, but given its enormous success so far, you certainly wouldn’t write that off.
Act 3 – Who’s the winner and do they take it all?
So who’ll be the winners, losers and the ultimate champion? Will Facebook and Snapchat dance on traditional TV’s grave?
It’s impossible to say at this stage. By the end of 2017, things could be clearer, but its a VUCA (volatile, uncertain complex and ambiguous) industry with lots of egos and lots of moving parts.
Firstly, consistent studies have show that traditional linear TV is still by far the most effective platform for brand building, and in Ireland for example, over 60% of our video consumption is still linear and live. What Snap, Facebook and others don’t seem to have any feel for is the power of TV compared to their own ad offerings. Most great TV advertising is talked about, it’s enjoyed in your living room with your family, and just being on TV gives brands a kudos, a social cache that paying for FB adverts doesn’t. That’s a key strategic challenge for social media platforms, but it might be overcome just by virtue of slowly decreasing TV viewership.
It’s also not just Facebook and Snapchat’s battle to become the new TV, there are plenty interesting players involved.
Other platforms will have a strong say. YouTube for example, despite losing some momentum and offer less powerful brand advertising options, is still the major video player, and has been wooing networks.
On the other side, there’s danger from Netflix and Amazon, who have the huge budget to create their own content, but don’t need to rely on money from advertising. Netflix have a strong recurring revenue from subscription, while Amazon could credibly turn around and give away all its video content for free as a way to generate subscriptions for Prime.
And then there are also plenty of legacy issues with both Snapchat and Facebook that could create speed bumps. Snapchat’s advertising platform is pretty much non-existent, meaning it relies on multiple large deals rather than giving advertisers the chance to self manage. Its lack of targeting will not play well in an age when measurement is everything either. There’s also the double edged of being a youth biased platform – who’s to say the success with under 34s will be grown into older brackets? And then there’s the pressure to monetise pre and post IPO.
Facebook has its own issues. Despite paying for original content and being the place where most people in the developed world get their news, it refuses to admit it’s a media company. Four separate measurement errors in the last year alone has shaken advertiser confidence in the platform too, and articles like this really don’t help Facebook’s case.
So who’s going to win?
Certainly as digital advertising reaches maturity and we come out of the ‘trough of disillusionment’ (Gartner Hype Cycle terminology) caused by the display/programatic/adblocking mess, this will be the defining story of the next five years.
My uneducated guess is that the fragmentation of traditional TV will take much, much longer than we expect, and, at least in the medium term, it won’t be a winner takes all game.
Now that you know a little more about the main protagonists, let battle commence.
Because the final act is about to be written…
P&G scale back on precision targeting – WSJ
The Facebook Epoch – Stratechery
The Great Unbundling – Stratechery
The T.V. ad isn’t going anywhere, it’s going everywhere – Wired
Facebook’s big TV push – Digiday
Facebook is testing mid-roll video – AdAge
Facebook TV is happening – TV Rev
Old fashioned Snapchat – Stratechery
Get ready for Snapchat to feel a lot more like TV – Business Insider
Why Snapchat is the new TV – WSK