Around two weeks ago, Facebook extended the reach of its walled garden by launching its Canvas platform in all international markets.
Canvas is a drag-and-drop interface that enables business owners to develop immersive campaigns specifically for mobile devices.
It’s essentially a shortcut to developing the type of rich media microsite that usually only accompanies major, high-budget campaigns.
Until now, this type of creative execution would’ve required quite a significant production period and a decent investment from clients (some estimates suggest digital agencies would’ve charged in the vicinity of around $20,000 for microsite of this calibre).
The Canvas platform drastically reduces the time necessary to produce a quality microsite and, more importantly, Facebook isn’t charging brands to use the tools.
Any business, no matter how big or small, can now tap into Canvas and start designing immersive campaigns. It might be a cliché, but this is certainly the democratisation of a design process that was previously esoteric.
In some ways, it makes it easier to fulfil the challenge Pepsico’s Brad Jakeman set for his agencies during a 2015 address, when he asked them to stop producing four pieces of $2 million creative a year and find ways to produce 400 pieces for $20,000.
In speaking at the launch of Canvas, Facebook chief creative officer Mark D’Arcy spoke about the evolution of advertising on the social media site, saying that brands and creatives have been integral to the development of Facebook’s advertising offering.
“When I first started my job, many questioned what a creative person can do at Facebook,” D’Arcy said. “They said things like: ‘what are you going to create? All you have are these ads on the side.’”
Of course, it didn’t take long for creatives to see the potential of Facebook for advertising and brands started piling in.
“The creative community took this real estate, they took social by design and they took that Canvas to create amazing experiences.”
D’Arcy says over time Facebook introduced new features, such as carousel and autoplay video, which the creative community picked up and used in a myriad of ways.
“Carousel transformed,” said D’Arcy. “It was originally meant to be for direct marketing, but creatives all around the world did recipes in it, they did brand stories and they said: ‘you may want us to do this, but we’re going to do something else.’”
And in much the same way that these previous tools transformed in the hands of creatives, D’Arcy believes Canvas will also lead to creative experimentation in the upcoming months and years.
In fact, the experimentation has already kicked off on both sides of the ditch with Audi launching a cross-Tasman campaign and House of Travel launching one in the local market.
House of Travel marketing director Ken Freer says what really impressed him about the launch of the first Canvas campaign was how quickly his social media agency Socialites pulled it all together.
“Normally, a campaign like this would have taken around four or five weeks to pull together, but they did it in fewer than two days,” he says.
Freer says the campaign has already led to great engagement on the site, and he says Socialites is already working on a second Canvas execution.
Freer’s says visually appealing online executions like these are becoming increasingly important in House of Travel’s comms strategy.
He says that more than half of his media spend is currently used in digital channels, but he admits that social, while growing quickly, still only makes up a small portion of the overall amount.
This is in keeping with broader industry trends revealed when the IAB announced its annual ad spend figures last week.
While advertisers spent over $800 million on interactive advertising over the course of the year, only $39 million was spent on social (Facebook is understood to account for around 90 percent of all social spend).
The reality, however, is that social and mobile are the two sub-categories growing the fastest when it comes to interactive ad spend—and by innovating in this space, Facebook is setting itself up for a very profitable future.
Internationally, there are three million businesses active on Facebook, and in New Zealand 80 percent of people on Facebook are connected to a small business.
Around the same time that Facebook launched Canvas, it also rolled out ‘Your Business Story’, a movie tool that makes it easy for business owners to showcase what they do on their Facebook pages.
In addition to encouraging business owners to delve into some digital creativity, innovations like these also play a big role in keeping businesses within the confines of Facebook’s gated community (some are even concerned Facebook is slowly consuming all media).
Facebook has really ramped up its objective to keep users within its interface over the last year, most tellingly with the launch of Instant Articles.
While publishers have expressed concerns about relinquishing their content to the social media channel, the same cannot be said of brands.
In fact, brands have always been willing to hand their content to media channels if there’s a big enough audience to be reached—this is the principle the entire print, radio and television industries have always been based on.
Freer says keeping consumers in Facebook is better for the brand in many ways.
“I don’t like disrupting customers,” says Freer. “If they’re on Facebook, then it’s always better to engage with them there.”
This is something Facebook also prioritises. During the launch presentation, Canvas product design manager Jess Watson said that one of the most important characteristics of Canvas is that it’s almost instantaneous.
“It had to be fast. Once the person decided to click into the Canvas, we needed to deliver the content as quickly as possible.”
She said that Canvas overcomes the common issue of rich media loading slowly, often frustrating users who have become used to rapid online experiences.
However, as she said, Facebook has "only created a shell" and the onus now rests on brands to fill it. No doubt they'll happily oblige.