Facebook’s Canvas Ads Redefine Mobile Engagement for Brands

Let’s face it, mobile advertising, for the most part sucks. They are usually either infuriating banner ads that popup and ruin your viewing/reading experience, or they’re native ads that you can safely ignore. But with its new Canvas ads format, Facebook’s taking the lead in creating an ad experience that is immersive, engaging, and exclusively tailored to the digital, mobile world.

The new Canvas ads will appear as moving GIF-like images with text in users’ news feeds, which expand to the whole screen when clicked on, much like Facebook Video. However, the ads themselves transcend the traditional advertising formats of text, images or  video to create an interactive experience that utilizes all three. Here’s how Facebook describes it:

Within a Canvas, people enjoy moving through digital stories easily. They can swipe through a carousel of images, tilt to view panoramic images and zoom in to view images in detail, making the Canvas experience immersive and engaging in a way that mobile sites aren’t. And Canvas uses the same technology that makes photos and videos load quickly on Facebook, so it loads as much as 10 times faster than the standard mobile web.

And here’s what it actually looks like:

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If you feel like this looks familiar, it’s because it looks a lot like a popular content format from that other social media network, Snapchat. Facebook has taken plenty of inspiration from Snapchat’s Stories format where publishers have created engaging, visually appealing ways to create content. Snapchat Stories truly expanded the possibilities of what publishers could do with their product, and Canvas is now taking those possibilities and giving it to brands. There’s a real opportunity for advertisers to turn their ads into something more than just promotional messages. Now, they can be games, stories, simulations and true entertainment.

If I sound like I’m gushing it’s because I believe Facebook might be the first platform to create an ad format that is unique to the digital, mobile world. Everything else we’ve had so far, such as video, banners, texts, and even native ads are just old-school formats that we placed on the Internet. They’re the equivalent of putting articles in PDF form when the digital platform is capable of so much more.

My team members at Altimeter Charlene Li and Aubrey Littleton raised two interesting points about the launch:

  1. Could this cut into the viewing times (and hence the costs) of TV ads? If you think of Facebook as a TV network where you pay to play, and if you consider how much time people are spending on their phones instead of watching shows, there’s every reason to think that these types of digital, mobile immersive experiences could soon become the premier ad format, and charge the kinds of rates that only TV could command. Keep in mind, Facebook can back up these engagement stats with one of the most sophisticated profile targeting systems in the digital advertising world, promising advertisers the type of relevance and customer data they can only dream of in television or other media platforms.
  2. How long would it take for consumers to embrace the new ad format? Given how quickly they got used to Facebook Video, and Snapchat Stories, probably not very long at all. The key here is for Facebook to be very selective about the ads they allow on the platform. One bad, or even mediocre Canvas experience could erode trust for the entire format.

Canvas is in the process of being rolled out, with only a handful of brands included in its pilot program. Facebook has released some early engagement metrics, saying 53% of people view more than half the duration of the Canvas ad, and on average each ad is viewed for 31 seconds. 30 seconds of viewing time is pure gold in terms of user engagement, but we’ll have to wait to see more figures as brands start embracing the format (other than these ones provided by the pilot brands).

However, given the success of Facebook’s auto-play Video (it’s previous effort to create full-screen immersive mobile experiences) I’d be very surprised if consumers didn’t embrace the new ads format with at least an aesthetic appreciation, if not a huge jump in spending.