Facebook, Twitter and the Potential Dilution of Mobile Advertising

If Facebook has its way "advertising" will be a thing of the past. Facebook wants brands to tell engaging "stories" instead, and turn all us passive "fans" into passionate brand advocates. Facebook wants brand and marketer content to be as good or better than any content or messages that your friends or family might generate. The content is the ad campaign and vice versa. 

At Facebook's FMC event in New York today the company introduced its highly anticipated "premium ads," which include mobile distribution. Mobile ads will not be separate from ads/content on the PC site; they will be an extension of the same campaign. There won't be a separate media buy or separate targeting (at least now).

New "premium ads" and existing "sponsored stories" will be distributed in Facebook's mobile apps as well as through its site on mobile browsers. These pieces of content or "ad units" will simply show up in users' mobile news feeds based on Likes and friend Likes, etc. 

One of the company's ambitions is to remove complexity from advertising on Facebook. A Ben and Jerry's marketing executive is quoted in a promotional video saying, "We really don't have to worry about separate media." Accordingly the same brand post/story will thus appear in the "organic" feed, as a mobile ad or as a conventional Facebook Ad on the right rail. 

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Also earlier this week, Twitter revealed it's very similar plan for mobile advertising.

Promoted Tweets will now show up in users' feeds in mobile. Initially only those advertisers you follow will be allowed to promote tweets in your feed. However, over time, the program will expand to allow all advertisers to reach non-followers as well. 

These two parallel programs may help one another and speed adoption (or at least testing) of mobile marketing by brands (and to a lesser degree small businesses). The widely discussed danger for both, however, is that mobile consumer-users might potentially feel spammed by brands and advertisers that are inept or too aggressive. This danger is greater for Facebook than Twitter.

Another potential issue is how all these new mobile impressions will impact mobile ad pricing. There's already an imbalance of supply and demand: too many mobile impressions chasing too few advertisers today. More competition generally equals lower prices for buyers. AdAge discusses that question in an article published on Monday.

The suggestion in the article is that like online, where social networks flooded the market with cheap display impressions, there's a similar potential risk in mobile. Prices are already coming down because there's too much supply: "That ad kitty will stretch even thinner when Facebook starts selling mobile advertising against its more than 425 million monthly active mobile users," speculated AdAge.

Facebook and Twitter ads are unique to those platforms, however. In effect these new mobile ads won't simply be fungible new impressions, interchangeable with those of a dozen other mobile networks. Facebook and Twitter compete more directly with each other than with Jumptap or Millennial or InMobi.

However it's quite possible that brands could choose to invest in Twitter and Facebook and divert resources (money, time, attention) away from other mobile display networks. Might that compel the other networks to lower prices to compete? Apple lowered prices considerably in response to competitive pressure on iAd from AdMob and others.

While the entry of Twitter and Facebook into mobile could push prices down for other ad networks, that outcome is not guaranteed of course. But we should know soon enough.