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Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: we're going to show how ads ring the cash register


By Ronan Shields, Digital Editor

September 13, 2017 | 7 min read

The Drum caught up with Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, ahead of her Dmexco 2017 keynote address, to talk brand safety, transparency, and what advertisers really want to know about how their ad spend is put to work.

SHeryl Sandberg Dmexco 2017

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg delivering her keynote address at Dmexco 2017 / Dmexco

‘Accountability’ and ‘transparency’ are arguably the two words that most define the key issues in the advertising industry in 2017, and no more so in the rapidly maturing digital sector, which this year has had to deal with its growing pains in the spotlight.

Given that digital ad spend surpassed that of TV last year, and is forecast to hit $83bn in the US alone in 2017, according to eMarketer, it is understandable that advertisers are scrutinising every dollar spent on such media.

This puts even greater focus on the two international household names that dominate the sector, Facebook and Google, and is the burden of success with the pair collectively garnering the sobriquet of ‘the duopoly’ – a characterization neither is likely to embrace.

The last 12 months have seen advertisers publicly voice their displeasure over the user-generated content their ads appear next to online, as well as how they can measure the performance of their media dollars in those digital environments.

In an effort to placate such voices, Facebook today (September 13) made several announcements addressing issues such as brand safety, third-party measurement and set a timeline for accreditation by The Media ratings Council.

Sandberg speaks of her belief that such measures are an acknowledgment of the “challenging time” faced by the ad industry, not just for media, but for business as a whole, although she also depicts the contemporary era as one of “huge opportunity.”

To realize this, she recommends a tiered method: focus on your mission; build a community around that; communicate who you are.

“I believe that if companies focus on their mission-based communities to communicate who they are, then we will increasingly see businesses of all sizes thrive,” she says.

Sandberg went on to reiterate her experiences of how businesses, both large and small, use its platforms to grow their business.

“Whether you marketing for one of the largest CPG companies in the world, or a one-man, or woman shop, your time is really precious,” she says, emphasizing Facebook’s desire to offer advertisers and end-users with a seamless customer experience.

“We believe that our platform offers a unique and unusual opportunity because of the art and the science. The creative canvass where you can do creative work, be it a 360º or video with the science of the targeting,” she says.

Commenting on the recent high profile withdrawal of digital ad spend from blue-chip advertisers including Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Chase Morgan (reportedly with little material impact), she notes how such names do continue to advertise on the social network, even is that number is dialed down a little.

Recounting some of the features that continues to make Facebook “the best dollar, Euro or Pound that anyone spends”, she cites its niche targeting capabilities.

“We can target by interest, and in so many deep ways, and we can measure very uniquely, I think we provide a unique opportunity for the highest ROI, and it is on us to prove it,” she adds. “We’re going to have to do that and increasingly do it better.”

Of course, it was the issue of third-party verified measurement (or lack thereof) that first sparked uncomfortable headlines for Facebook 12 months ago, with the company now counting dozens of companies among its measurement partners (DoubleVerify and Meetrics are two of the new names), on top of its planned MRC accreditation.

“We’re really working on measurement, and that’s something we have a lot of work to do on, and the industry has been focused on proxy metrics such as how long people watch video, or how affiliated are they with a brand, and those are important – and we know we have to improve there,” she says.

Sandberg went on to recount how Facebook is looking helping advertisers better assess how their ad spend on the platform is impacting sales, hinting that attribution, and showing an ROI will be key to it keeping marketers happy.

“The more we can look at ad spend and what actually happens at the end of the day in terms of sales, the better off we will be, and we’re increasingly focusing there,” she says. “All those marketers really care about, is does it ring the cash register?”

Another thorny issue broached in Facebook’s Dmexco 2017 announcements were around the areas of transparency and brand safety in particular – Facebook was also implicated in The Times’ brand ad misplacement investigation.

Sandberg highlights its recent updates that give advertisers visibility over their ads are likely to appear prior to a campaign's launch.

For the first time, this also includes an analytics tool which also shows advertisers where their ads have appeared post-campaign (both on Facebook as well as its third party ad network), something she describes as a “virtuous circle.”

She adds: “Later this year we’re also going to have post-campaign transparency, so you have the ability as an advertiser to say ‘I do want to be on these sites, I don’t want to be on those sites’, but you also don’t maybe think of everything. So we’re also going to show you after the fact, where you’ve run, and that enables you to say ‘actually, I want more of this, and less of this.’”

When asked over how confident she is as to whether these measures will help stem the reported flow of blue chip advertisers away from digital (just as P&G has purportedly done), Sandberg points to the social network’s continued rampant revenue increases, to offer some perspective.

“We’re going to continually put out better products and better tools, but I think it’s fair to say that that trend is not that large of a trend,” she says, although she does acknowledge the reticence of some clients.

“That does not mean we don’t have work to do, because we do, and putting out better tools and measurement is going to be a big part of that going forward,” she concludes.

Sandberg delivered a keynote address at Dmexco 2017, where The Drum has been reporting from the show floor, click here for coverage

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