Facebook’s growing stature as an advertising juggernaut is increasingly overshadowing its identity as a mere “social network.” This evolution was especially clear during New York’s annual Advertising Week event, as chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and a team of Facebook of executives revealed some key client metrics and initiatives—among them, the fact that Facebook now has a whopping 4 million advertisers on its platform. Sandberg talked with Fast Company about the ways Facebook is helping advertisers take advantage of the global proliferation of mobile devices.
“What’s really going on, big picture, is that we’re living through the fastest adoption of a communication technology that the world has ever seen,” Sandberg says, noting that the average American checks his or her smartphone 150 times a day. Still, only 40% of Facebook advertisers are creating ads specifically for mobile. Sandberg wants that figure to be much higher, and says Facebook is working to make mobile ads more enticing for both businesses and consumers. “In a mobile world, even the smallest to the largest businesses really want to spend their money to reach people effectively,” Sandberg says. “It’s a win on both sides: If [businesses] have very effective ads, those ads give them a higher ROI. [But] consumers also like them better.”
Sandberg says Facebook is working to make ads more engaging (translation: make them look less like ads) with tools such as Canvas, which lets businesses build immersive, full-screen experiences that include photos, clips, and slick editorial. This week the company even added 360-degree videos to Canvas, and the ability to link to other “canvases” for more in-depth storytelling. But pretty ads mean nothing without better targeting, which is why last week Facebook announced powerful data-measurement partnerships with the likes of Nielsen and Oracle. “It’s the targeting and technology and the ability to show the right ads to the right person,” says Sandberg, “But the creativity, the pitch, and the post, [are also] so important. It’s creativity with technology.” (Notably, Facebook’s new measurement partnerships were revealed a day before the company went public about miscalculations in the way it promoted its video metrics.)
Last year, Facebook announced a “dynamic ads” product, which lets marketers better target people who frequently shop on their mobile devices. This week, the company went a step further and added the ability for businesses to display products based on their availability in nearby stores. “The most important thing is the role that we want to play in driving our partners’ and advertisers’ core business,” says Sandberg. “We want to help them move products off shelves.” Sandberg cites Bud Light’s recent “My Team” campaign, which advertised beer cans branded with a specific NFL team based on Facebook users’ location. She says that campaign resulted in a 8.3x return on ad sales. With Facebook’s new in-store availability initiative, brick-and-mortar retailers can display products with the same level of specificity. “It’s combining the best of both worlds into a new world,” Sandberg says.