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Indian brands warming up to Facebook ads in news feeds

Some are still circumspect, but most think it?s a smart platform for promotions

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, the world’s largest , has just launched a new initiative under which will appear in the form of ‘stories’ or posts about a product in its news feed labelled as ‘featured’. Marketers can only pay for these adverts to appear in a user’s feed if the user has already ‘liked’ the page. And the advertiser does not have the option to add its own additional message once the post is live.

Though the ads have generated a huge controversy abroad and are yet to be rolled out in India, many Indian companies using the social media platform as their are keenly watching.

The advertisements are displayed based on what users have ‘liked’ and actions made by their friends.

“I think ‘featured’ advertisement will make an impact if they are saying something significant. If a brand is just trying to give information, it won’t work well. For , I do not see us using it till we have something to talk about. With every other advertisement medium, it’s how you make use of the platform is what matters in the long-run,” says , EVP and Business Head, MTV India.

Others have a different take. “I think it’s a very smart move from Facebook, but more importantly an amazing opportunity for brands. One has to move beyond creating a base of ‘likes’ or ‘fans’. I think this will allow brands to grow organically and create communities that connect with people who share similar passions,” says Sunil Chandarana, CTO, EBS Interactive.

Hareesh Tibrewala, Joint CEO, Social Wavelength, a social media agency, believes since these featured ads will sit within the news feed, visibility for this communication should be a lot higher. “However since FB intends to show only a limited number of sponsored stories to a consumer in a given time frame, available inventory will be limited,” he added.

For Facebook, this would mean further opening up its revenue from advertisement, but brands are not looking at this in seclusion. “We do not evaluate one avenue in competition with another. For us, all kinds of media have a role to play and we believe that sponsored stories as a part of news feed will have its own utility in furthering brand messages. We believe that content and messaging has to spread into four parts – Paid, Owned, Earned and Shared media. Any one of these cannot take the brands too far. One cannot pay one’s way to greatness anymore,” says the spokesperson of Coca-Cola India.

, that recently crossed a milestone of 300,000 fans on Facebook, believes that if used smartly, ‘featured ads’ can enhance brand visibility and achieve higher impact and click through rates with a higher engagement with their guests.

The airline started utilising social media platforms starting January, 2010 and is currently present on six social media platforms i.e. Facebook, , , , and Foursquare. But each of these are used differently.

“Over 80 per cent of Jet Airways’ marketing spends are in the digital space and social media share is substantial,” adds a company spokesperson.

Zafar Rais, Founder and CEO of MindShift Interactive, says that of the top 50 brands in India, over 32 are using the social media platform actively, and it is estimated that the budgets for social media spend in India is expected to touch Rs 1200 crore. But going ahead only those brands that have a content that can engage with users will optimise their presence on these platforms.

One of the successful campaigns run on Facebook recently was PepsiCo India’s ‘Change the Game’ around 2011 Cricket World Cup. PepsiCo India decided to run a Reach Block on February 11 this year to guarantee that it would reach 100 per cent of its target audience over a 24-hour period. Reach block had open targeting.

The campaign was run in three parts. The first part featured a video plus poll engagement format that included a TV commercial featuring cricketer-turned-umpire Billy Bowden. This asked people to vote for their favourite game changing plays. The second was a premium video Like Ad that encouraged people to watch another of PepsiCo India’s TV spots and to connect to the Pepsi India Page. The third ad drove people to ‘The Biggest Wave” application on PepsiCo India’s microsite. The impact was that the reach block was viewed by 19 million times, topping PepsiCo India’s target by 145 per cent .

PepsiCo India says it was impressed by how viral the campaign went on Facebook. “Quite simply put, one out of two impressions a user saw carried the names of his friends who had liked or engaged with the ad,” says the company. PepsiCo India says it has learnt that it is important to focus on how to engage fans than simply acquiring them.

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