Facebook Canvas Ads: Microsites Just Got Social

After being beta for almost a year, Canvas ads have finally been released to all Facebook advertisers. Canvases are full-screen ads that live within the Facebook mobile app, allowing users an immersive branded experience without leaving. Many advertisers have tested into the new platform, and are finding that it is truly a blank canvas with nearly limitless opportunity.

HOW IT WORKS

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Canvas ads start as a standard photo or video ad in the mobile newsfeed, but with a new “tap to open” button. Once clicked, users are instantaneously launched into an immersive branded page comprised of videos, photos, and text. Canvas ads are pre-cached, like Premium Video ads offered in 2014, and load more seamlessly than a mobile website. Interactive features within the unit allow users to tilt, swipe, and click to engage with the content, and the experience is customizable based on your creative assets and objectives. Within the experience you can also click off to the advertiser’s mobile web page, for users who are looking to engage further with the brand. Although purchases cannot (yet) be made within the units, a marketplace feed can showcase product listings, allowing users to browse before visiting the site to buy.

The Canvas looks and feels like a custom microsite or a branded app, but requires no coding or web development. Anyone with access to Facebook’s Ad UI, Power Editor, can design and build the unit.

Despite the creative freedom Canvas ads give to advertisers, Facebook has also put some parameters in place to ensure brands create engaging consumer experiences. For example, only 500 characters are allowed in a single text block, and images must be vertical to fit naturally in the Facebook app orientation.

IMPROVING THE MOBILE EXPERIENCE

One of the major benefits of Canvas ads is how quickly they load. Facebook touts that the units load as much as 10x faster than a traditional mobile web page. This is part of a greater Facebook push to improve the mobile experience for its users. This is also on the backs of “Instant Articles”, which allow publishers to upload their articles and have them appear within the Facebook app instantly after a user clicks, rather than driving off to their mobile web page, which can take time to load.

And it’s not just Facebook — Google also just released AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages — an open API designed to enable mobile web pages to load up to 85% faster.

PRIME FOR TESTING

DigitasLBi recommends brands already leveraging Facebook ads should test into Canvas early, given the limited risk and potential upside. Currently the expanded ads come at no additional cost to advertisers, who still only pay for clicks, engagements, or impressions on the newsfeed ad. In order to have the greatest success, it’s important to consider three things:

1. TEST IN EARLY

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So far, DigitasLBi is seeing consumers spending between :30 and 2:00 engaging with the Canvas unit — far higher than even most video ads. This shows great promise, but there is no indication yet how it might change once the units lose their “newness” (after all, the first banner ad had a click through rate of 44%…).

2. GO IN WITH A CLEAR OBJECTIVE

Facebook says that this product can deliver on all campaign objectives, from branding to low funnel direct response (of course they do!). However, it is important to go in with a clear objective and KPIs. We’ve seen that different creative options on Facebook can perform drastically different from one another, and it’s critical to set expectations ahead of time. While the low cost might make it a viable option for direct response, it is important to remember that the website is an additional click away. Therefore, if your objective is site visits and on-site conversions, it might not be the best option.

3. CREATE SOMETHING INTERESTING

Regardless of the ad unit, consumers are only going to spend their time with content that brings them some sort of value. Telling a story is the best way to capture attention and keep users involved. Interactive elements, such as tilt features and horizontal scrolling allow users to stay within the experience and explore the content more deeply. Because it is still too early to tell exactly what combination of assets might work best, experimentation is key. Design the unit with your audience in mind, because engagement only comes to the engaging.

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Liane Nadeau

Liane Nadeau is Social Strategist, DigitasLBi Boston

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