Banking on Facebook: The social media giant makes its first moves into the credit-card payments business.

untitledRecently, I blogged about how Google’s efforts to expand its business activities beyond pay-per-click advertising — thereby diversifying its revenue stream — haven’t borne much fruit.

In 2011, ~96% of Google’s revenues came from PPC advertising.  In 2014, it’s ~97%.

But Google isn’t the only behemoth whose income is completely tied to advertising.  Over at Facebook, ~93% of the company’s more than ~12 billion in revenues come from advertising as well.

Compared to Google, Facebook is a relative newcomer to the advertising game.  But once it got in on the action, its growth was very robust.

In 2014 alone, Facebook’s advertising revenues were up 58% over the previous year.

But … there’s a bit of a problem.  In a world where advertising revenues are tied to “eyeballs,“ Facebook’s user growth isn’t on the right trajectory.  When the network has nearly 1.5 billion active users already, there’s not a lot of room for expansion.

This is reflected in Facebook’s Q4 year-over-year percentage growth stats as published by Mediassociates, a media planning and buying agency:

  • 2009: ~260% year-over-year growth
  • 2010: ~69% growth
  • 2011: ~39% growth
  • 2012: ~25% growth
  • 2013: ~16% growth
  • 2014: ~13% growth

One can easily imagine 2015’s growth figure dipping into the single digits, giving Facebook all the hallmarks of being a mature company in a maturing market.

But the always-enterprising folks at Facebook have had something up their sleeve which they’re rolling out to the market now:  getting into the multi-billion credit-card payments business.

Facebook send money appThey’re starting small:  introducing a “send-friends-money” functionality to Facebook’s Messenger app.  But this rather innocuous addition hardly does justice to Facebook’s end-game strategy.

When you think about it, Facebook’s aims make a lot of sense.  With nearly 1.5 billion active users around the world, Facebook’s accounts make PayPal’s ~162 million active accounts seem pretty paltry by comparison.

But revenue from PayPal’s transaction tolls isn’t chump change at all:  nearly $8 billion last year alone.

Without doubt, Facebook is also looking at the huge amount of business done by American Express and VISA; think of the billions of dollars those companies earn by charging merchants between 2% and 3.5% on the value of each credit-card transaction.

Facebook’s entry into the business can be facilitated neatly through its Messenger mobile app, making it just as easy (or easier) to pay for goods and services as with a credit card.

Considering that Facebook’s users with mobile phones are already spending time on the network an average of an hour per day, it’s pretty easy to see how people could make the transition from traditional credit and debit card payments to using their Facebook app for precisely the same purposes.

And Facebook could sweeten the pot by working with retailers and marketers to offer real cash loads that would likely juice participation even more – sort of a cash rebate in advance of the purchase rather than afterward.

So we shouldn’t think of Facebook’s new “send-friends-money” feature as a one-off function.

Instead, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  If I were a manager at VISA or AmEx, I’d be thinking long and hard about the real motivations – and real implications – of Facebook’s latest moves.

Many online banner ads are “invisible” — just like all the other kinds of advertising.

poor online display ad clickthrough ratesI’ve blogged before about the dismal performance of web banner ads, with their miniscule clickthrough rates resulting from “banner blindness.”

The situation has caused more than a few marketers to shy away from engaging in any sort of banner advertising online — and it’s not hard to understand why.

But as Ben Kunz, a vice president at media buying and planning agency Mediassociates likes to point out, other forms of display advertising have similar challenges.

The fact that omnibus marketing information resource eMarketer has predicted that digital ad spending will increase to ~$132 billion this year is proof that many advertisers continue to see the value in online display advertising.

So what is Kunz’s major argument? Simply this:  Digital ads have the same challenges that television, radio and print advertising have as well.  In Kunz’s view, there’s huge waste in advertising because of advertising’s very nature.

He is correct. The vast majority of ad impressions that are “served” are never really seen or heard — regardless of the ad medium.

Ad visibility online is an issue for sure. Proving the point, internet analytics company comScore evaluated some 290 billion ad impressions on thousands of web sites … and found that ~54% of them weren’t visible.

There was some differentiation the comScore detected between different types of sites. Ads served up on “Ppemium” web publisher sites performed better (only ~39% of theirs weren’t visible).

Ads that aren’t visible occur for a variety of reasons, one of which is fraud (fake web traffic). But more often, it’s because of slow load times on digital devices or because the ads fall outside a viewable browser window or further down that page, necessitating scrolling that many viewers simply don’t do.

The Swedish firm Sticky has investigated banner blindness from another angle — studying the eyeball movements of ~500 subjects. Its research found that of the digital ads that do appear within a viewable window, only ~51% of them are actually “seen” by the viewer.

Mashing it all up, it means that roughly three out of four online ads are “invisible” to viewers. It’s a lot of waste for sure.

But then … what’s the alternative? Do other advertising tactics and channels actually do better?

Nope. According to Kunz, at least three out of four newspaper ads aren’t seen, either.

Ben Kunz
Ben Kunz

Here’s how he arrives at that conclusion. The average U.S. newspaper has ~60 pages, with an average number of ads per page of around 20 (this includes large ads and smaller classifieds).  Around half of the pages are unopened when someone reads the paper, meaning that those ads are “unviewable.”  If half of the remaining ads are ignored as well, the viewability stats are effectively tied.

Kunz also contends that ~30% of radio advertising is “invisible,” citing an Arbitron study that quantified the extent to which listeners switch stations when advertising came on, then flip back later.

The findings were such that Arbitron started recommending that media planners change their measurement from 100 GRPs to 70 GRPs, reflecting the fact that ~30% of radio ads paid for never make it human ears.

TV advertising? It’s the same phenomenon.

Trips to the refrigerator or the bathroom abound during commercial breaks — not to mention channel flipping or TiVo-ing.  Kunz contends that such ad-dodging techniques reduce TV ad viewability by as much as 75%.

The bottom line on all of this: Waste in digital advertising is a significant issue … but it’s a similar issue with other ad vehicles as well.

Add to this the fact that digital advertising offers the best metrics (accountability for every click and conversion action), and it should come as little surprise that digital ad spending continues to grow (and why eMarketer expects it to reach about a quarter of all ad spending this year).

Does Kunz have a point about offline and online advertising sharing similar “blindness” characteristics? What are your thoughts?  Please share your perspectives with other readers.