Facebook’s newest advertising product, expected to be unveiled on Feb. 29, leaked to the web yesterday. The ads themselves would appear to be a natural evolution of the company’s primary money-making business, but perhaps there’s more to these new sponsored stories than meets the eye.
The introduction of upgraded ad formats, according to one prominent financial analyst, is a last-ditch effort on Facebook’s part to meet advertising revenue budget goals for the first quarter of the year.
“We’ve confirmed with sources close to the company that Facebook is indeed behind its projections for ad revenue for the first quarter,” financial data company PrivCo CEO Sam Hamadeh told VentureBeat. “It certainly doesn’t look good for Facebook frankly.”
VentureBeat cannot independently confirm Hamadeh’s statements on the sluggish performance of Facebook’s ad business.
Documents leaked Wednesday (included below) reveal that Facebook plans to introduce an “Upgraded Premium Ads” product that will replace its existing “Classic Premium Ads.” Facebook marketing materials suggest that the new ad formats — there are six in total — will increase an advertiser’s engagement rates by as much as 40 percent.
“These documents, coupled with other rapidly rolled out changes that boosted the pervasiveness and intrusiveness of Facebook ads…are evidence that the company is struggling to meet its financial projections as its IPO looms imminently,” a PrivCo blog post dissecting the new ad formats concluded today. “Facebook is clearly choosing to increase its ad intrusiveness and frequency to pad its numbers short-term in preparation for its IPO and first quarter results post-IPO trading, at the cost of user experience and long-term growth.”
“These are the types of actions ad-supported companies save for a Rainy Day,” Hamadeh added. “It should be a red flag for investors that Facebook apparently considers that Rainy Day to be now.”
Facebook’s advertising business is a risky one. VentureBeat previously spoke with Peter Adriaens, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan’s Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, who argued that the social network should have identified low click-through rates on ads as a risk in its S-1 filing with the SEC.
A report published Thursday by market research firm eMarketer projected that the social network would bring in $5.06 billion in ad revenue in 2012. The figure represents a 60 percent jump from the $3.1 billion it made from ads in 2011, but, according to eMarketer, also suggests a significant drop-off in ad revenue growth rates.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Photo credit: Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook