AdTech Mythbuster Series: Programmatic Facebook and Facebook Direct



Before we can tackle this, we have to determine what the advertiser means by “we advertise directly with Facebook.” This could mean one of three things.

First, they’re saying they have a business profile page on Facebook and they use it to post articles and images and maybe even like, comment on, or share other people’s content. In other words, they’re not paying for advertising, but are using the platform as a social media channel.

This is very different from running ads on Facebook, either directly through Facebook, or through Facebook’s programmatic exchange, FBX.

This article isn’t about the many benefits of participating in a social community as a business. I actually commend businesses that take the time and manpower to do this, and I’m sure that it is valuable to their business.

Participating on Facebook in this way allows the business to have fans that follow them. Research shows that posting content will get in front of approximately 16% of those fans at any given time, and when the fans share the business’s content, their friends may see some of that activity as well.

That’s a great way for a business to get seen by a lot of people.

But it has practically nothing in common with programmatic advertising. Hold that thought for now.

The second thing they may be doing is paying to boost their posts. This is basically the same as what I’ve just described, but for a few dollars they get their post seen by more of their fans, and even people who are not their fans.

This is another good strategy, but also very different from programmatic.

Maybe what they mean is that they run paid ads on Facebook. These are simply called Facebook Ads. If that’s the case, they are building a display ad (not the same as you’d see on CNN or eBay because Facebook ads are built a little different) and they are running them usually in Facebook’s right rail.

These ads are normally an image. Sometimes they include text, but Facebook limits the text to less than 20% of the image. Then there are two lines of text below the image.

While these are the very same ads that are run programmatically on the Facebook exchange, also known as FBX, the audience targeting is a little different.

When a business buys Facebook ads directly from Facebook, they have the ability to choose who to target based on all of the demographic, behavioral and profile data at Facebook’s disposal. This can includes demographics like age, gender, income and race. But they also have choices like: moms of preschoolers, new moms, and even specific generations; want to reach Millennials or Gen-xers? Facebook Ads can do that.

They can target based on interests like health and fitness, and they can even target based on user behavior like charitable donators.

In fact, Facebook Ads are really pretty impressive. So why would a business need programmatic ads on Facebook if they’re working directly with Facebook?

Two words: Digital Breadcrumbs.

When it comes down to it, Facebook has a lot of digital breadcrumbs – but only the breadcrumbs we leave on Facebook. In other words, if we have told Facebook our age (most of us have), they can target us based on our age. If we’ve liked certain pages or shown through our behavior that we are a new mom, they know that – but only if we’ve left those specific breadcrumbs while… on… Facebook.

Facebook has no access to the digital breadcrumbs we leave while we’re on sites other than Facebook, or what we like to call, “the rest of the internet.” So when I was researching new mattresses on WebMD and Consumer Reports and, Facebook had no insight into my need for a new mattress.

I promise you there’s nowhere in my Facebook profile that mentions that my wife had a sore back because of an old mattress.

I would have had to have liked a page about mattresses or written a post about Emily’s sore back and my desire to buy a new mattress – something people admittedly do sometimes but certainly not all the time and definitely not for everything they research online.

At the end of the day, Facebook Ads have some pretty great targeting capabilities, but they are limited. If you’re TempurPedic, do you target a certain age? No, because both young and old buy mattresses. What about a gender? No. Both men and women need mattresses. Millenialls? Gen-xers? Is one more likely to buy a mattress than the other? New moms? Preschool moms? Someone with a specific income?

Hang on a minute. You might say that a new mattress is expensive so we should only target users with a certain household income. Fair enough. Two questions for you.
One, does making a nice income mean that I’m looking for a mattress? No, it doesn’t. Even if TempurPedic targets a certain income bracket, that means they’re still wasting a lot of impressions on people who don’t need a new mattress.

Second question: How does Facebook know our income? I don’t remember checking that box when I signed up for a Facebook account. And even if I had, I’m not sure I would have been completely forthcoming.

Does this bust the myth that if someone is working directly with Facebook, they don’t need to run programmatic ads on the Facebook exchange? I hope it does.

Bottom line, as long as they want to target users based on the digital breadcrumbs they leave on “the rest of the internet”, then yes, they do need to use a company like to advertise on FBX.