Facebook addresses Audience Network, mid-roll ad transparency problem with publisher lists

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Buying ads from Facebook doesn’t always mean those ads will run on Facebook. They could appear across Facebook’s Audience Network of third-party apps and sites. Even on Facebook they could show up inside an Instant Article or in the middle of a publisher’s video — all without the advertiser knowing where its ad appeared and with whom its brand is being associated. Problematically, major ad buyers have advised marketers to avoid some of Facebook’s inventory over the lack of transparency. Now Facebook is cracking open its black box.

Facebook plans to start providing advertisers with lists of publishers on whose sites, apps, Instant Articles and native Facebook videos their ads may appear, the company announced on Wednesday.

The word “may” may stick out in the previous sentence. That’s because Facebook will still not be providing advertisers with lists of where their ads actually appeared. Instead Facebook will provide advertisers with lists of where their ads could potentially appear, though Facebook could eventually also provide after-the-fact lists of where their ads actually did appear.

Facebook is testing these potential publisher placement reports, with some advertisers running video ads across Audience Network, and, by the end of 2017, plans to provide them to all advertisers running video ads on Audience Network, ad breaks within native Facebook videos and any ads across Instant Articles.

The disclosure of where brands’ ads may appear could satisfy major ad buyers, like WPP’s GroupM and Publicis Groupe’s DigitasLBi, who have held back from buying this black-box inventory from Facebook over a lack of transparency and control.

Facebook provides advertisers some control over their Audience Network, Instant Articles and in-stream video ad campaigns, like choosing not to buy that inventory, blocking individual publishers and choosing to exclude their ads from running on certain content categories like “dating,” “debatable social issues,” “gambling,” “mature” and “tragedy and conflict.” But agency execs want to be able to know where exactly the ads they’re buying will or did appear.

Facebook’s new publisher placement lists may help, but only to a point. The idea is that advertisers can scan these lists to see if any publishers are included that they don’t want to feature their ads. If so, advertisers can add those publishers to the block lists Facebook rolled out last year to bar brands’ ads from running on their sites or apps, though advertisers will be limited in how many publishers they can block.

While Facebook will provide advertisers with a complete list of all the publishers on which a campaign may run, advertisers will only be able to block a certain number of those publishers. Facebook is still figuring out the specific number, according to Michel Protti, a product marketing director at Facebook. He said a threshold is necessary so that advertisers don’t use these lists to cherry-pick individual publishers and buy their inventory through Audience Network, where the prices may be lower than if bought directly from the publisher.

“It’s important for us to limit sales channel conflict for our publishers, and enabling this opt-out to become something more akin to an advertiser targeting particular publishers can create sales channel conflict problems for our publisher partners,” said Protti. The avoidance of sales channel conflicts is also why Facebook had kept Audience Network as a black box to advertisers; if publishers thought advertisers would try to use the ad network to buy their inventory on the cheap, publishers wouldn’t be willing to give Facebook that inventory to sell.

Speaking of block lists, Facebook is making it easier for advertisers to manage and apply their block lists. In the past, advertisers had to create block lists for each set of ads, a tedious process that was worthwhile only if advertisers wanted to block certain publishers for certain campaigns. For advertisers who want to block publishers for all campaigns, next month advertisers will be able to create block lists at the account level so they can be automatically activated across all campaigns. “It’s essentially a ‘set it and forget it’ type control for advertisers. You can do it once for a given publisher or Page and have a greater peace of mind as a result,” said Protti. At first, the account-level block lists will only work for Audience Network and Instant Article campaigns, but they’ll eventually also work for in-stream ads within native Facebook videos.

Facebook will also roll out a new control for advertisers extending their Facebook video ads across Audience Network to decide which placement types they do or do not want to buy. Advertisers will be given two placement options: in-stream (pre-roll and mid-roll ads) or “other” (video ads appearing outside of a video player, such as within a content feed or as an interstitial). An advertiser feeling guilty about annoying people with interstitial video ads can now opt out of that placement. Or an advertiser who isn’t comfortable with not knowing exactly which publishers’ videos its pre-roll or mid-roll ads will appear within can deselect the in-stream placement.

About The Author

Tim Peterson, Third Door Media’s Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles. He has broken stories on Snapchat’s ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar’s attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon’s ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube’s programming strategy, Facebook’s ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking’s rise; and documented digital video’s biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed’s branded video production process and Snapchat Discover’s ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands’ early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo’s and Google’s search designs and examine the NFL’s YouTube and Facebook video strategies.


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