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Friends are the secret ingredient for Facebook ad success - study

21st Apr 2010
Managing editor
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Ads in a social media context are much more effective than standard display ads, according to new findings from Nielsen and Facebook.

The research, the first fruits of the Nielsen BrandLift partnership, found that people are more likely to notice an ad which incorporates social media – particularly ads that feature people’s friends as 'fans' – and that ad recall could be as much as three times higher than traditional ads.
Established last year by Nielsen and Facebook, the Nielsen BrandLift initiative is designed to measure the impact of brand advertising on Facebook. For the last six months, Nielsen has been monitoring the interactions of some 800,000 Facebook users with over 125 ad campaigns from 70 brands.
Three types of advertising were examined – an engagement ad (basically a typical homepage ad) with the option to become a 'fan'; an organic ad impression (or earned media), such as a friend’s mention of a brand in a news feed; and an ad with social context, which combines both of the above so that a traditional ad also displays friends who are fans of the brand.
The study found that compared to a control group with no exposure, the traditional homepage ad led to a 10% ad recall increase, a 4% brand awareness increase and a 2% increase in purchase intent. 
But it is the combination of the traditional ad with earned media that provided the most success.
"While exposure to the homepage ad itself increased ad recall, those users exposed to both the 'paid ad' and the organic impression remembered the ad at three times the rate of those just exposed to the paid homepage ad," wrote Nielsen’s vice president of media analytics Jon Gibs and Sean Bruich of Facebook’s measurement research in the report.
"We saw a similar effect for the other two metrics evaluated. Homepage ads increased awareness of the product or brand by 4% on average, but exposure to both homepage ads and organic ads increased awareness by a delta of 13% versus the control group. Exposure to organic impressions also impacted purchase intent as well, increasing the impact of the ad from 2% to 8%."
For firms looking to advertise on Facebook, this means the more fans they already have, the greater the chances of success with a campaign. As such, brands need to consider whether this boost to ad success outweighs the resources invested in engaging users and increasing the fan base.

"The key takeaway is the high and long-lasting impact of earned media messages in the social arena," conclude Gibs and Bruich. "But advertisers can't buy earned media; it has to be earned through user engagement and connections between users and brands."

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