Why Aren't Facebook Ads More Transparent?

For a company that thrives on transparency, Facebook's advertising isn't very transparent.  Check out your Facebook home page, note the ads on the right side, and tell me what companies they're for.  Sure, the ads probably cite brand or company names in the headlines and images, but who are the companies who paid for those ads? Where will you end up if you click those ads? And an ever better question is, what will happen if you "Like" the ad--will you be giving information to a trusted brand or a spammer?

Now go to Google, conduct a search, and check out the AdWords on the right side. Who sponsors those ads? And where will you end up if you click on those ads?

Google advertising is transparent, and Facebook advertising is not. The difference is a single line of text: AdWords creates transparency by including a "Display URL."  Within ad AdWords, advertisers can set different Destination and Display URLs, but the two must be within the same domain so that (in the word of Google's AdWords form), "users know what to expect when they click your ad."  (The reason there is a difference between the Destination and Display URLs is so that advertisers can direct people to a specific page in their domain while displaying the much shorter root domain in the ad ). 

It would seem to benefit advertisers (and Facebook itself) if the social network embraced more transparency.  Check out the examples below, which pair ads I collected from Facebook with ads that appear next to Google search results.  The image in the first ad prominently displays Budweiser, but is it a Budweiser ad? I doubt that Anheuser-Busch is offering "70% off Beer and Alcohol." If the ad is from A-B, then the lack of transparency harms the brand by discouraging clicks and likes. And if the ad isn't from A-B, then the lack of transparency harms consumers who are duped into clicking the ad.

Knowing what to expect when you click an ad doesn't seem like a novel concept, so I wonder why Facebook, an organization committed to increasing transparency in the world, is so opaque with its ads.  With the addition of a single line of text--a Display URL or some other identification of the ad's sponsor--Facebook could make its advertising a great deal more transparent. If openness is so good for us Facebook users, shouldn't it be the same for Facebook advertisers?

Google and Facebook ads compared


I think it's a brilliant

I think it's a brilliant suggestion. Facebook is currently being partially transparent when advertisers want to market a page they have on Facebook: in that case keeping the same title as the page is mandatory. It's different for everything that's outside and for paid ads with custom media planning.

Being transparent could help increase trust and leads, too, IMO.

More trust!

Thanks Stefano, It's time to put more trust into Facebook advertising!

Excellent point, and an

Excellent point, and an age-old lesson in advertising that we seem to have to learn over and over: straightforward, truthful ads build trust and sell more stuff.

Even more so today...

Thanks, Blair. And your comment--straightforward, truthful ads build trust and sell more stuff--is more important than ever!

"For a company that thrives

"For a company that thrives on transparency, Facebook's advertising isn't very transparent."

Facebook thrives on its users being transparent and sharing as much about themselves as possible. Facebook itself, in my personal experience, does not have a strong history of embracing transparency in user experience, privacy and many other aspects of their business, so a lack of transparency in this regard isn't very surprising to me.

In many regards, they've been dragged into the realm of transparency and towards improvement only when public opinion reaches the boiling point. To their credit, they have made taken some positive steps, and this may be a new opportunity for them to do so again.

Can't Disagree

I agree that Facebook has been more about increasing others' transparency than their own, but as you point out, there's been positive steps. And it's not necessary for Facebook to be more transparent in order to make Facebook advertising more transparent. Small steps could bring great benefits to both users and advertisers.

Closely Related HubSpot Post

After reading this post today I moved on to a HubSpot post by Magdalena Georgieva: Marketers Gravitate to Facebook As Most Trusted Referral Source (http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/6609/default.aspx). The post was illustrating that consumers trust FB as a source for recommendations; but the big point is people don't trust the delivery method itself (FB) they trust the recommendations of friends--they just so happen to look to their friends on FB for the recommendation. Too many companies simply look to FB to post ads. They need to start becoming "friends" and engaging with their audience if they really want to see results from their Social Media "marketing" efforts.
And certainly, to be "trusted" transparency goes a long way!

Thanks for the link, Christine

Great point: "People don't trust the delivery method itself (Facebook) they trust the recommendations of friends." Very true, and in a way rather sad. Trust is such an important brand attribute, and it's time Facebook and Facebook advertisers strive for some greater trust. Engagement is key, of course, but that "engagement" cannot merely be talking at people with one promotion after another (which is, unfortunately, a lot of what I see in Facebook nowadays.)

Thanks, All!

I love the readers of the Forrester IM blog! Great comments and so true. Facebook needs to generate more trust and ought to improve their advertising, and brands need to do more to foster trust and make real connections!

The investment and cost of failed strategy and marketing process

While I can appreciate and understand the point of the blog post. I have been researching and trying to understand how is it that these situations happen in business and why?

In a recent situation, a long time business colleague of mine and a trusted relationship had invited me to a new type of MLM seminar that was promoted and designed to manipulate these existing trusting relationships. After five minutes into the presentation I had to leave and discuss with my colleague the protocol and respect barrier that he had broken with mis-using my influence and time for a worthless venture. Perhaps it would be a positive and great venture to be a part of, if the situation had been approached differently.

I sincerely believe that consumers have been under appreciated. This is also evident with organizations that frequently turn away their customers. A favorite pub of mine and business colleagues to meet at, one night we were there and they were closing early. Only that instead of 9pm they were closing at 8pm. And at 6:30pm were already turning away customers that would have provided income for the business.

The recession is no more a technical issue, it has now become a mindset for people to engage irresponsible and inappropriate business practice. And when people market like they do in this fashion only makes it worse. I trust the market forces will reflect the situation and incur the costs and make business impossible for those who engage in these practices a thing of the past.

Thanks, James

Consumers have been under-appreciated, but not by all brands. Just look at the greatest brand (such as those at the top of Interbrand's list of best global brands (http://www.interbrand.com/en/best-global-brands/Best-Global-Brands-2010....) and you'll find companies that have demonstrated greater appreciation for their customers.

Excellent point. In fact, I

Excellent point. In fact, I have taken to using the click feature to "rate" or describe" these ads. I use the "Misleading" descriptor a bunch for the very reasons you mention in your post. Who/What is behind this/(these) ads. Social Media has the power to do so much but it is also a tool that allows for very dark and large shadows to be cast that can actually hurt the customer/user experience. Great post!

Does Facebook do anything with those ad ratings?


Thanks for the comment. I've done the same thing, but I also find myself wondering if Facetious does anything with those ad ratings. I've never received any feedback, and I think some sort of feedback loop would be helpful to let consumers know their opinions matter.

I second that

If it sounds too good to be true especially applies yo the ads on Facebook. A substantial portion of the ads placed on Facebook pages are, and that's an understatement, misleading or outright false advertising and Facebook is not doing anything to stem the flow.
Eventually, as the word gets out, Facebook is going to lose credibility and the legitimate advertising community will move to other platforms.
Facebook lack of advertising transparency will lad to lost revenue opportunities
Now Facebook will argue that they outsource the management of the advertising stream and that they have in the past, banned contractors that accept and publish misleading ads, but I have not seen anything coming out except than an increased flow of misleading advertising.
The conclusion is easy to reach for most of us, Facebook has adopted a short term approach to ads management instead of a long term approach.
That may increase the short term value of the company but will definitely be costly in the long run.

As of yesterday, I've noticed

As of yesterday, I've noticed that Facebook is showing a display url under some ads now. They don't currently show for Facebook Page ads. Here's a like to my post that shows screenshots http://bit.ly/dmeyvz

Facebook improves

Thanks for the note, Nana. I hadn't noticed the change, and it's definitely a great step forward. I know my blog post had nothing do with this, but it's nice to see Facebook addressing some of the concerns people are voicing!