History of advertising: No 146: Facebook ads

On an afternoon in November 2007, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, stood before an audience of corporate bigwigs and representatives of the Madison Avenue agency establishment to announce what was arguably the start of social media advertising.

His unveiling of Facebook Ads was not unexpected. Speculation had been rife for some time about how the ambitious young company would tackle the tough issue of advertising on a social network where people went to chat with their friends, not to buy products. What’s more, advertisers were unsure about becoming involved with Facebook. Many were unaware of how to measure ROI or what resource to commit to it compared with other media channels.

It all amounted to a serious dilemma for Facebook. Competition from other social networks was forcing it to explore ways of profiting from the innovative communications platform it had created. But would the push for advertising alienate its users?

In fact, the introduction of brand pages – allowing users to build relationships with companies for the first time – was a game-changer for Facebook, enabling it to evolve from a networking platform for college kids to one that included young professionals.

For advertisers, Facebook Ads enabled them to create branded pages, run targeted ads and have access to intelligence and data pertaining to Facebook’s millions of users.

Zuckerberg told his audience: "For the last 100 years, media has been pushed out to people. But now marketers are going to be part of the conversation."

His message was not lost on the likes of Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram (later to be acquired by Facebook) and Pinterest, all of which went on to launch ad products. However, it also marked the start of what many would see as a growing threat to personal privacy.

Things you need to know

  • In February 2015, Facebook announced that it had reached the milestone of attracting more than two million active advertisers to its site.
  • A few months previously, it introduced an enhanced version of its Ads Manager app that allows advertisers to create, edit, schedule and track their ads.
  • Facebook, which now claims 1.39 billion monthly users, delivered a 58 per cent revenue growth to $12.47 billion in 2014. Much of this was driven by mobile advertising.