What You Need to Know About Facebook’s New Canvas Ad Format

Facebook touts their new Canvas ad format as “A Full-Screen Ad Experience Built for Bringing Brands and Products to Life on Mobile”. It is a new way for brands to create mobile-friendly, interactive “stories” that live right inside of Facebook.

Judging by their press release it is going to empower advertisers, make the browsing experience better, and seemingly even solve world hunger once and for all. But what is so great about this new Canvas? What do companies that have advertising budgets on Facebook need to know?

The Real Deal


Let’s strip away the marketing speak. This is a new type of advertisement format that keeps users on Facebook rather than directing traffic away to other sites. Instead of clicking on an ad and opening up your browser on a mobile device, this ad opens inside of Facebook. The Canvas format also ensures that your advertisement is mobile friendly, which is great if you don’t have a mobile responsive website yet.

If you’ve ever used a website builder like Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace, then you will pick up Canvas very quickly. You are presented with a blank page showing how your Canvas ad will look on a mobile device. Then you can add photos, text, buttons, galleries, and videos. The interface is intuitive and easy to use…which is almost unexpected with Facebook updates these days.

So think of Canvas as a mini-website builder that lives inside of Facebook and is built for mobile. Is that a “game changer” or “the best thing to happen to the web”? Nope. But, there are some great aspects to the new format. There are also considerations to make when deciding if you should incorporate it into your digital strategy.

The Upside

There are definite benefits to the new Canvas platform. Benefits for Facebook users, advertisers, and Facebook the company alike.

For Facebook users: they will gain access to information in a familiar, standardized, mobile-ready format. Plus they gain a few seconds of previous browsing time.

Meanwhile, advertisers will have a fast, convenient way to create promotional content. They will also be able to get more insights into user behavior including:

  • Average duration of canvas viewed
  • Average % of canvas viewed

Finally, for Facebook (the company), people will stay on their platform longer. This means more content and data that Facebook has under its umbrella. They want to keep users on their platform and collect data about their behavior and interactions. I imagine this is also a first step toward future virtual reality interactions using the Oculus Rift. So in another year expect to read posts about how Canvas is dead and now Canvas VR is the new tech you can’t ignore.

The Downside

As I mentioned earlier, it is similar to a visual website builder (WYSIWYG). Which means brands that don’t have dedicated designers now have access to a tool where they can horrify our eyes with clashing colors, images of 3D text, and gradients galore. So expect to see some less aesthetically pleasing experiences with this flexibility. This platform will also use up more bandwidth than a standard image ad, which is never fun when you receive your data usage bill for the month.

For advertisers a big downside is not having access to more detailed analytics. If users aren’t clicking through to your own site, you aren’t able to get data outside of what Facebook gives you. Which means you don’t have control until users click through to your site. For us data fanatics, that means no heat maps, A/B tests, and other dynamic capabilities we have available outside of Canvas.

Yay or Nay?

The big question is: should brands use the new Canvas format?

The answer of course is yes…when it makes sense to do so. The cost of setting up a Canvas ad will be more expensive than a simple image advertisement. If you have a designer available then it is well worth testing it out and seeing how engagement rates compare to your other ads. But if your engagement rates are the same, it may not justify the cost.

Also consider the limited data that I mentioned as a downside. If you don’t currently track any customer data other than simple traffic analytics, this is a moot point. However, if those limitations are going to interfere with metrics you are currently tracking, you need to think about how this new format will integrate into your larger advertising strategy.

Finally, remember that this is just a new format. When Facebook added video advertisements, there was a lot of excitement around it. And while video ads have proven to be more effective than other formats, that doesn’t mean you should drop everything and create a video ad. Like video ads though, you should consider Canvas as supplement your other advertisements formats.

As we always advocate with Black Label, test everything. Put aside a small budget, run an ad for a few weeks, and see how it compares to your other promoted content. Set some goals, expectations, and outcomes, and see where you end up. And then be sure to let me know how it turns out!

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