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Facebook To Cull Ad Network In April

Facebook Trims Audience Network’s Mobile Campaigns

Six weeks into 2020 and the much-heralded online privacy squeeze is well underway for marketers.

The latest casualty being the mobile web arm of Facebook’s Audience Network, set to be wound back on the 11th April.

Facebook Spokesperson, via Publisher section:

“We’ve made this decision based on where we see growing demand from our partners, which is in other formats across mobile apps. We also remain committed to moving our mobile app network into bidding.”

For the uninitiated, the Facebook Audience Network launched in 2014 and is an off-Facebook, advertising network for mobile apps and websites.

It's a standard ad placement in most campaigns via Ads Manager. Many organisations use regularly by accident.

The Audience Network enables advertisers to serve up ads to customers using mobile sites and apps other than the Facebook family (i.e. Instagram, Messenger, etc.).

Extending reach beyond the platform, while still getting to leverage Facebook’s treasure trove of consumer data and easy to use ad system.

The Audience Network has a monthly reach of 1 billion+ people and features on roughly one-third of the top 500 free apps on Google Play.

Facebook’s Audience Network is comparative in principle, although not size, to the Google Display Network. Google’s equivalent launched in 2000 and is the dominant online ad network by some margin.

Cheap Facebook Impressions & Clicks

Facebook’s Audience Network offers some of the most affordable reach and clicks on the platform. 

In Q3 2019, the median Facebook News Feed cost-per-click (CPC) was US$0.57, while the Facebook Audience Network median CPC was 35% cheaper at US$0.42.

Whether that proves it's any good though, is another matter.

The majority of Facebook’s $70 billion annual revenue comes courtesy of its own family of apps; however the Audience Network is somewhat of a dark horse.

It is estimated that Facebook netted around $4.8 billion worth of programmatic ad spend in 2019 via the Audience Network, up from $4 billion in 2018.

Facebook claims removing mobile web ads will not have a material impact on revenue or available scale since the majority of Audience Network revenue is driven via app placements, which will still be available come 1st April.

Although, how long that will even remain possible is anyone’s guess.

Overdue Privacy Armageddon For Online Ad Giants  

A user privacy storm has been brewing online for some time.

In recent years Apple, via the Safari browser and iOs mobile operating system, and Firefox, via its browser, have been agitating for a clean-up of online tracking and ad targeting.

Google finally caved in January, announcing an elimination of third-party cookie tracking by 2022 via Google Chrome.

With 69% market share on desktop web browsers, and 40% mobile market share, Google Chrome’s latest edict affects anyone with a website, including brands, agencies and traditional news publishers.

Including Facebook, and its Audience Network.

Therefore, when taken together, Facebook’s remarketing shakedown and Audience Network roll-back demonstrate the beginning of a weakening process for Facebook ad targeting more generally.

As flagged by Facebook CFO David Wenher, last week:

“We are seeing headwinds in terms of targeting and measurement. But as I noted, the majority of that impact lies in front of us.”

Facebook is a heavily reliant on signals from user activity on third-party website and services to deliver relevant and effective ads. Anything therefore, which blocks or impedes these signals weakens targeting.

Which is precisely what has happened, and will continue to happen.

Facebook’s Declining Ad Targeting Prowess

As per Wenher, there are essentially three factors undermining Facebook’s ability to now deliver relevant ads to users.

“First, the recent regulatory initiatives like GDPR and now CCPA have impacted, and we expect they'll continue to impact our ability to use such signals.

Secondly, mobile operating systems and browser providers such as Apple and Google have announced product changes and future plans that will limit our ability to use those signals.

And then finally, we've made our own product changes that gives users the ability to limit our use of such data signals to improve ads and other experiences. And there I'd point to something like the rollout of off-Facebook activity controls.”

Each of these factors limits Facebook’s ability to target and measure the effectiveness of ads on its platform.

Leaving Wenher to lament:

“I think it's important to note that the regulatory and platform changes will have a disproportionate impact on the ability of small businesses to use ads to grow and thrive.”

In reality, the impact will be shared by any organisation heavily dependent on Facebook. Big and small.

Whilst the impact of Facebook’s latest Audinece Network change may be minor, it is evident that this the beginning of a long winter for Facebook marketers.

Smart marketers will be wise to ensure they are not over-exposed to Facebook in 2020.

And yes, that also includes Instagram.

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