Can Facebook ads work for large brands?

With its recent IPO, Facebook ads are getting a lot of scrutiny. We polled our readers on this very relevant — and much debated — question and chose the best answers, which were published in the Reader Response section of the July issue. Check and see if your name made it into print.


Dana Todd, SVP of marketing and business development at Performics
More than 17 years of digital marketing experience

General Motors‘ recent criticism and budget cuts for its Facebook ad campaigns had many speculating that advertising on Facebook doesn’t work for large brands.

While Facebook may not yet be all things to all people or brands, it is working for countless other big brands and their agencies. Right now, the onus is on brands to create the right experiences to connect with their participants, and to test various Facebook ads as a mechanism for amplifying those connections. GM competitors, such as Ford Motor Co. and Toyota, seem to be finding plenty of value in advertising on the platform, and Performics clients (notoriously performance focused) have ramped up social ad budgets as much as 700%. When looked at in terms of ROI, the return is measurable. A global health and beauty client uses Facebook engagement ads to maintain a low ongoing cost per fan of around $1 each, while an online retailer saw a 3-to-1 sales ROI for a T-shirt promotion, plus significant sharing and measured engagement.

The timing and “publicness” of the announcement was the most peculiar part of the story. Most big brands do not publicize any changes to their media mix — it’s usually a big secret.

I believe GM was sending a message to Facebook: You’re not quite living up to your potential. And I kind of agree. Considering the sheer audience size, Facebook is the most desirable place on the planet to be. And yet, their offerings for brands are limited (and frankly, they simply don’t offer a competitive alternative to other digital media). In our industry, there’s an expectation around innovation when it comes to monetization, and savvy digital marketers with big budgets are used to being part of the innovation team. If GM was simply treating Facebook as a standard ad channel, slapping up one-direction messaging, that’s a failure for both sides to communicate and innovate together.

Brands of all sizes can win in social media marketing, if they can just remember that clever ad messages aren’t a substitute for real engagement at a personal level. The real opportunity is to use advertising as a means of amplifying your “organic social media” engagements as loud as you want.

During the news fracas, Ford tweeted, “It’s all about the execution. Our Facebook ads are effective when strategically combined with engaging content and innovation.”

We couldn’t have said it any better.


Mike Tittel
, executive creative director at gyro Cincinnati

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These are the three ads I was just served on Facebook. Needless to say, Facebook’s ads don’t work very well.

General Motors’ recent retreat from their Facebook advertising spend is easy to perceive as the white flag of surrender.

Wondering why? The answer is simple. It’s something we all know and have experienced as Facebook users. We don’t go to Facebook to buy anything. Our minds are never going to be in a purchasing or even brand consideration mode as we voluntarily connect with friends and interests within Facebook.

We’re thinking about birthdays, cool bands and whether it’s our turn in Words With Friends.

We don’t use Facebook for research. We don’t use it to seek information or for fact gathering. In fact, in our walled city of Facebook, ads feel foreign and intrusive and rarely, if ever, compelling. Static billboard ads are not compelling.

So end of story, right? Not so fast. There is hope. Fact: Facebook ads that actually promote new careers or jobs have done very well within Facebook. And of course, you can hypothesize that with unemployment where it is at, there is a lot more time off for certain unemployed people to spend more time on Facebook. Contextually relevant advertising at it’s best.

Brands that can figure out how to make Facebook ads engaging and humanly relevant can succeed. It just tends to be rare at this point for the reasons I described.

But what is certainly more interesting to marketers is how to tap into the engagement areas within Facebook itself — the holy grail of the news feed, photo galleries and apps that actually do something for Facebook’s users.

Entering the conversation, fostering the community, giving them something to share — this is the real power of Facebook. Humans interacting with humans — that’s what works.

So it’s not that advertising on Facebook is dead, but those little tiny banner ads that no one cares about might be.

Direct Marketing News Decision

Facebook ads can work for large brands, depending on the goal. We don’t think Facebook ads will directly drive many conversions for big-ticket items. Yet, they can help increase brand reach and awareness. Posts that offer discounts or awareness of sales for more everyday products and services can be effective, by contrast.

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