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  • Rohan Mukherjee

Where would digital marketing be in a world devoid of Facebook?

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

Digital marketing is dependent upon the existence of Facebook and other corporations. Let's discuss if it can survive without them.


For me, privacy and security are really important. We think about it in terms of both: You can't have privacy without security." - Larry Page

Remember the ancient era of the internet? It was an 8-bit land where cats weren’t funny and life was really Solitaire.


It promised us of a crazy world full of frenzy, excitement, experimentation, and freedom! With the invention of the Internet, the world witnessed a new way of communication (and new way to do some other, less dignified stuff).


Of course, how can we forget the ads? Those vivid, colourful banners that popped up with strange messages like, "Have you ever clicked here?" Well if we're not mistaken, that is roughly what was written in the first ever banner ad that went live on the internet on 27th October 1994. And it was on that day, online advertising (or digital advertising as we know it), was born. The industry that would go on to become a $230 billion (USD) market, was in fact started with a sum of $30,000 that AT&T paid to HotWired (Wired Magazine's former online publication) to place a banner ad on their website for 3 months. This banner ad worked on a very different model from today's pay-per-click model. It was based on the traditional offline advertising model of occupying space. Unbelievably, the ad received a click-through-rate of 44%! (A number that would cause advertisers today fall from their seats). Now, compare that with today's average click-through-rate of 0.06%. Strange, right?

We can't help but think how the world of digital advertising boomed (or spiralled?) in the last 22 years to what it is now. Big Brother. Wait, what.


You're simply Googling for a new desk alarm clock, unwary that millions of advertisers are being told by Google that you, someone who's possibly thousands of kilometres away, unknown to them, is in need of a desk clock with an alarm function in it. You continue looking for a desk clock, find a few, then decide to stop looking and go on Facebook (because, why not?). And there it is! While you're scrolling through Facebook watching your friends put up pictures of their pets, vacation, spouse etc you see an ad for a desk clock that you might have come across while browsing before, or maybe not. And you think to yourself, "Is anything I do online even private anymore?"


Well, you're not the only person to have this question, more and more people are being exposed to the intrusive (AKA, creepy) nature of digital advertising. But, that's what we sign-up for when we register for services like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Instagram, etc. Our data is being sold by these platforms to advertisers who run bids to get their ads to us. And nobody does that better than Facebook.


So, how important is Facebook for digital advertisers? Let's try and understand. The reason Facebook became an advertiser's gold mine is simple, the sheer number of active users on the platform. Facebook has an average of 1.71 billion monthly active users with 1.31 billion using the platform on a daily basis. That's roughly about one-fifth of the entire world's population! That's much, much beyond massive!


But do numbers alone give Facebook the reputation of being an advertiser's goldmine? No. Facebook has some very specific information about its users. And this information isn't something they've stolen from us (though activists say they have), but we've willingly given it to them. Our interests, our relationships, our likes, dislikes, (recently) what we find funny, irritating, or sad, they know it all. They know where we eat, where we go, which restaurant we like, which brand of jeans we want to wear, what kind of music we listen to, what kind of movies do we watch - all this personal information, we've just handed over to them under the simple act of creating our 'profile'. And what this lets advertisers do is create a micro-level precision targeting to sell the enticing desk clock with an alarm function. Who’s cuckoo a clock now?


This brings us to the question, 'What would digital advertising be without Facebook?'. Seeing how much value Facebook holds for advertisers, it is actually surprising to speculate that they would do just fine, even without Facebook. Let's go a bit deeper than just speculations. Facebook is still neither the only company with so much of data about users, nor the largest. The company that surpasses Facebook in the amount of collected user-data is Google. The largest search engine on the internet has more of our data than the largest social networking platform. One of the reasons for this is purely the nature of these two. Google, being a search engine, gets people who actually intend to buy something. Whereas Facebook being a social media platform, has users who merely consume the brand's content and maybe engage with them. According to Business Insider, Google sees about 2.3 million searches on their engine per minute. These searches are for places, people, cars, bikes, household stuff and unicorns. Which is why AdWords, Google's ad platform offers far more options than Facebook to place your ads and ensure they get you the returns. According to Google, advertisers make about $2 for every $1 they spend on their platform. This is something Facebook can't guarantee or even claim due to obvious reasons. But with online stores, marketplace, and some other features, Facebook is trying to get themselves ahead in that area.


As much as Mark Zuckerberg hated his recent testimony to Congress on account of the Cambridge Analytica leak, he hates the fact that, for now, it remains clear that Facebook is a platform where people learn about the brand, and Google a platform where people actually make purchases from the brand. But then again, who knows anything?


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