Facebook: How to stop 2bn thumbs scrolling past your marketing campaign

Facebook is a key component of any modern marketing campaign. We talk to global head of console and online gaming Franco De Cesare about how the industry can get the best out of the platform

Facebook has around two billion active users worldwide, mostly on mobile devices. That’s two billion potential thumbs scrolling through their News Feed. The trick is making them stop on your content.

That’s what Facebook’s global head of console and online gaming Franco De Cesare hopes will happen for the benefit of his clients, which includes pretty much every single platform holder and publisher of games on the planet, from established triple-A console titles to mobile breakouts.

“That’s really the behaviour – you’re scrolling through your feed very fast and you stop at something that captures your attention,” says De Cesare. “So what stops the thumb?” 

In one respect, Facebook is entirely at the mercy of this legion of thumbs. It relies on marketing spend to keep all those servers running, and that marketing has to be effective in order to keep industries like ours paying Facebook to reach those eyeballs. And the competition in that feed is no pushover.

“Most of the time, your marketing message on Facebook is competing with someone’s vacation photos from the Maldives, or their kid’s graduation, so it’s really important that the marketing message is very powerful and personalised as much as possible,” he says. 

THUMBING A LIFT

Thankfully, we’re selling games, not washing powder. Games (should) have exciting storylines, great characters, strong concepts and incredible graphics, so as an industry we’re certainly off to a good start.

“The quality of the marketing message is incredibly important on our platform,” says De Cesare, who held senior marketing roles at Nintendo, Dreamworks, Fox and PlayStation among others before moving to Facebook two years ago.

“Gaming definitely should have an advantage,” he continues. “In the early days it was sometimes a bit constraining though, because as a format gaming loves its two or three minute story trailers. As gamers, we all love them. We like the immersion of that experience, but the reality is that there’s a gate to entry for that experience.”

That means a trailer with a slow dramatic build-up just isn’t going to going to perform well on Facebook. Instead, you only have a few seconds – less time even – to capture the user’s attention.

“It’s like a gate,” he says. “You only open the gate if there’s something exciting, if it’s a window to that world behind it. It’s a challenge, but also an opportunity to capture the attention of someone with just a few impactful seconds and get them into your world.”

It’s worth getting that message just right too, because Facebook has such a huge audience. “We have a very robust community of gamers on Facebook, over 100m people worldwide,” De Cesare (pictured below) explains. “They’re very passionate about their games, and we offer an opportunity to our clients to connect to those communities through our products.”

Arguably, Facebook provides a group of targetable gamers that differ from those on other, possibly more enthusiast, platforms.

“We offer solutions that are based on real identities,” De Cesare tells us. “We talk about people being their authentic selves on our platform, and we think that’s particularly relevant in the gaming space. As gamers are very unique personalities, they are very passionate about their interests, and our platform allows us to connect with those true people.”

Opinion is very much divided on the impact of online personas on the gaming community, but it’s encouraging there is now an alternative where people can play and talk about games using their real-world identities.

“I think it puts a little more restraint on some behaviours that might happen otherwise, because of that alter-ego gamer personality, allowing you to hide behind it,” he continues.

In our experience, we now connect and play games more often with people we know ‘in real life’, largely through the ability to link our games consoles with a Facebook account. Though De Cesare isn’t taking the credit: “I won’t say we’re responsible for this, but Facebook can definitely be an enabler for this. You mention connecting your Facebook on your console – that’s also available now on Xbox, and games you play on your phone. That allows you to connect your community on your Facebook account to help you share those passions.”

"Most publishers are very aware of their community. They find Facebook and Instagram to be great platforms to reach those communities, and a lot of that has to do with the revolution of games-as-a-service."

Franco de Cesare, Facebook

We ask to what extent Facebook can then target specific users based either on the usual demographics of age, social grouping and location, or – more intriguingly – on actual gaming tastes and behaviours.

“Our targeting capabilities are very high,” says De Cesare. “Because [Facebook profiles] reflect users’ true selves, we can be very specific.” But it’s not just about Facebook itself.

“We also encourage gaming companies to leverage their data,” he continues. “There are more and more ‘games-as-a-service’. Knowing what you tend to do in a game, and knowing what you’re interested in, can not only be leveraged for marketing purposes, but can also be used to make your gaming experience more personalised, more unique and more rewarding.”

De Cesare wants to be very clear that Facebook and its partners strictly abide by all the pertinent laws on data privacy: “I’m not an expert, but what I can tell you is that we’re incredibly passionate about the privacy of our community. 

“It’s one of the most important things for Facebook. We’re incredibly protective of that data and we wouldn’t let it be used for unlawful or inappropriate use. We’re very careful about that. Any data that is shared is hashed so no one can access it and personalise an individual. We always refer to it as ‘access in the aggregate’ so it’s never about a person. In the aggregate, you can do some pretty sophisticated targeting and marketing.”

A LONG ENGAGEMENT

That trend to games-as-a-service seems to be favouring Facebook, as it can now engage fans over a long period with multiple campaigns in a way that’s difficult for less scaleable, traditional media: “Most publishers are very aware of their community on Facebook,” says De Cesare. “They find Facebook and Instagram to be great platforms to reach those communities, and a lot of that has to do with the revolution of games-as-a-service.

“This is an industry where huge, ongoing franchises are a bigger part of a gamer’s life, whether you’re into FIFA, Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed,” he continues. “All of those offer a pretty ongoing engagement, while Uncharted just released great DLC almost a year after a release and it’s a great way to go back to the game.”

"There are opportunities for mid-level publishers and indie publishers to leverage our solutions."

Franco de Cesare, Facebook

As anyone who has worked with AdWords knows, the cost of marketing online isn’t fixed. What’s more, esports has shown that more ‘non-endemic’ brands are catching on to how the gaming demographic is a desirable one to reach.

“We’re being very open about video being the most critical form of content on all our platforms,” says De Cesare, “and gaming specifically as a vertical is a priority – again, because of the richness and the depth of the engagement our community has with this kind of content. That then becomes interesting for all sorts of verticals from an advertising perspective, obviously the ones that are endemic to the gaming content, but also other brands that might be looking at that particular demographic.”

That could mean that endemic gaming brands looking to promote their titles find competition is increasing. Facebook can help, though, by increasing the amount of gaming related video content on its platform, something it has been keen to do of late, whether it sources that content from a media partner, a publisher, or by encouraging user-generated content.

“We all know that if someone is into gaming and gaming content, they tend to consume a lot, whether they play or watch,” De Cesare explains. “We always talk about allowing a community to discover, play, watch and share on our platform. All those behaviours happen on our platform, and they are available to advertisers to target.”

TAKING INVENTORY

When it comes to online marketing, video is the new standard, but De Cesare tells us there are numerous different opportunities within the category: “Video is the currency of the gaming market, but the placement of the video and the opportunity are very varied and allow you to customise your messaging to the way that consumers and our community, mostly on their mobile phones, consume their content,” he says.

“So you have video in News Feed, but then you have Instagram. Instagram Stories has been an incredibly successful product. The engagement is incredible. We have 250m users on Instagram Stories. We also just announced the ability to advertise in Messenger. We have audience network partnerships with other platforms on mobile, where a partner will [place] video assets not only in Facebook, but inside other apps through our audience network with the same targeting capabilities. Most recently, we’re also offering in-stream with our longer form content, so rather than pre-roll, we can place ad breaks in between.

“So the solutions are varied and, because of our ability to test and measure everything that we do, we allow and encourage our partners to customise their content to the specific opportunity, because the context around it makes the messaging much more powerful.”

"We’re partnered with some great retailers all around the world and we try to provide solutions because we’re focused on business outcomes."

Franco de Cesare, Facebook

We all know that the big publishers are using Facebook to promote their products, but we ask De Cesare what the take-up has been like for smaller brands: “I don’t think there’s anyone not on it,” he says, “but there are opportunities for mid-level publishers and indie publishers to leverage our solutions and to actually come up a little bit to the big boys. Some of the mid-tier publishers in our industry could benefit from looking at some of the smaller advertising solutions that we offer.

“If you look at the industry over the last few years, the small publishers asked themselves: ‘Do I have enough money in my marketing budget to a do a TV ad campaign or do I just do a digital campaign?’ At the mid-tier industry, Facebook can be a great partner, because a platform like ours actually allows you to scale to an incredible amount of people at a much more efficient level than you would have to get on TV, for example.”

BACK ON TRACK

Getting the message out is great, but converting it into sales is the goal – and Facebook is working hard with its partners to track that engagement right through to sales: “We spend a lot of time talking to our clients about providing business value and we also talk about business returns, rather than media metrics, and I think it’s very important,” says De Cesare. 

“It depends what data you have available on your site to measure the commercial return. We encourage people to look at what we have really done – has your advertising generated a sale or is it a sale of a game, a sale of a microtransaction, or an app install? There could be many different ways, but those are all business outcomes compared to media metrics, like a video view, for example. It might be very interesting, but it might not have moved the meter at all in terms of your target.”

Of course, all that depends on how trackable your sales are: “The PC gaming world, by and large, is almost entirely digital, so it’s technically measurable,” De Cesare continues. “They can then measure the effectiveness of their marketing, and again measure the engagement of a gaming experience of their game, so the market becomes a lot more integrated to the gaming experience.”

However, it is possible to track physical sales as well, to an extent. “We do it with something called ‘offline conversion’,” De Cesare explains. “It’s not exclusive to gaming, it’s actually something we do with retailers. We’re partnered with some great retailers all around the world and we try to provide solutions because we’re focused on business outcomes.”

However, Facebook isn’t looking at what games you play on your PlayStation, for instance, even if you have your accounts hooked together: “PlayStation is aware of that. But that’s between the platform owner and the publisher on how they share their data. That data is available. If it gets together in a hashed ecosystem with Facebook data, then it does provide targeting opportunities. But it’s very important to say that it’s not something we access directly. It’s always to the benefit of the client who does have the data, and what they do with it is their choice. We’re very respectful of that.”

Much like other companies, Facebook is looking to push engagement even further with AR – and the number of campaigns is growing. “Gaming, because of that passion and engagement, was one of the founding partners of [Facebook’s] AR Studio,” says De Cesare.

Launched back in March at F8, EA was first onboard with Mass Effect Andromeda, a campaign that was announced alongside the new tools and which launched on the eve of E3 this year. “Since then, we’ve done a couple of other integrations on AR Studio, one with SuperCell for their 50th anniversary, and one with Blizzard for Diablo. It’s an ongoing platform for us. Now the toolset is open to developers, so gaming developers can actively develop for AR studio.”

We know that agencies are always keen to experiment with new formats as part of their campaigns. After all, it’s good to have something for the client to get excited about. We’re yet to see whether AR will take a big bite of video’s pie, but Facebook looks to be in a strong position if it does.