Facebook Ads, Now With Better Photos

Yesterday Facebook announced on its blog a new deal with Shutterstock that will give its advertisers access to millions of stock photos for use in Facebook ads. If that means I’ll never see Larry Ellison’s mug on my wall again, that would be fantastic.

Facebook Ads

The real issue Facebook wants to solve is advertiser performance. As Lauren Hockenson puts it in her GigaOM post:

We all dislike ads on (the right hand side of) our Facebook pages. Some of that dislike comes from them being just plain ugly and poorly retargeted. It is hardly a surprise that the click-through rates on these low-cost ads are abysmal. A study by AdRoll last year showed that traditional ad-retargeting nabs 40% more clicks than a Facebook ad.

If the Shutterstock deal leads to more visually inviting ads and Facebook users look at them and click on them more frequently, advertisers (and Facebook shareholders) will be thrilled.

Such a smart idea that you could almost call it obvious. Back in March, Facebook redesigned its News Feed to present larger photos, because, according to Facebook executives, 50% of News Feed posts are photos (March 2013), up from 20% a year earlier (November 2011). An acknowledgement, in other words, that photos are the universal language of Facebook. Maybe I’m asking too much to expect Facebook to give a photo-facelift to their ad products simultaneously with a similar upgrade other user features on the site. Maybe they need to stagger changes of this magnitude, and improving the ad products only a half a year after upgrading the News Feed is pretty good.

But I can’t help reading something larger into this. Part of the reason online ads stink — annoying consumers and disappointing advertisers — is that digital media companies treat advertising as an after-thought. The prevailing wisdom is: Launch the product, iterated until it’s awesome, and then build a giant audience. If all of that goes as planned, you can tack on some ads later. How do ads stand a chance of working (for consumers or for brands) if, on they day they launch, we already hate them simply because they’ve stolen pixels that yesterday were used to delight us with content or service that made the product awesome?

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