Facebook Brand Awareness Optimization: A Breakthrough for Brand Marketers

Facebook Brand Awareness Optimization

Executive Summary

Facebook announced Brand Awareness Optimized (BAO) campaigns on September 28, 2015. It provides advertisers with a new way to bid when the goal of a campaign is increased brand awareness. Similar to a reach-optimized buy, Facebook is billing advertisers upon impression serving. This change adds yet another buying method to Facebook’s platform, and serves to better align buying methods with campaign goals. The BAO product is the continuation of a trend in Facebook’s offerings over the past few years, as the firm seeks to harmonize its ad products with advertiser business objectives.

BAO optimizes campaign delivery for both reach and ad dwell time simultaneously, as Facebook and Nielsen have found that dwell time is the most significant driver of ad recall discovered to date.  As such, this bidding method should be leveraged in scenarios where brand awareness is the primary campaign goal. Advertisers should begin testing this buying method for their awareness campaigns as soon as possible in order to determine its effectiveness for their brands.


Advertisers purchasing media on Facebook have always desired insight into the effectiveness of their buys. Even in 2009, the heyday of “fan acquisition” campaigns, Facebook recognized that on-site metrics like cost-per-like and cost-per-engagement didn’t provide a complete picture of media effectiveness. More to the point, without a measurement system comparable to those in pre-existing media channels, Facebook advertising was a difficult sell.

To fill this gap in their offering, Facebook partnered with Nielsen to launch the Facebook/Nielsen Brand Lift Study for large advertisers in September 2009. Brand Lift is a survey-based measurement method, whereby users exposed to a campaign as well as a control group are served survey media on Facebook. The survey questions are selected by the advertisers and relate to ad recall, purchase intent, brand favorability and similar. Nielsen records the responses from the exposed and control group, and the delta between the control and exposed groups (typically an increase) is the measure of a campaign’s “Brand Lift.”

Facebook steadily improved on the product in the ensuing years, adding more options for advertisers, extending the polling to mobile devices, and rebranding the study as Nielsen Brand Effect. What had not meaningfully changed, however, was the ability of advertisers to directly optimize their buys for positive study results: Facebook’s official perspective for years was that the only optimization goal for awareness campaigns should be mass reach. BAO changes the game.

Development of Brand Awareness Optimization

Over the past six years, large advertisers across all verticals have run thousands of Nielsen Brand Effect studies to gauge the impact of their media. Cumulatively, this provided Facebook with a rich data set describing the relationship between media performance as measured by Facebook metrics (engagement rate, etc.) and positive Brand Effect results.

After conducting a meta-analysis of several hundred of these studies, Facebook determined that it was not only campaign reach, but also dwell time on an ad, that consistently drove ad recall across all verticals. Unlike clicks, which have limited predictive ability due to the small percentage of an audience that interacts with ads on Facebook, dwell time is broadly predictive of behavior even among users who don’t click. The BAO buying method takes this into account, optimizing delivery of ads for both high reach (ads will serve to new users before serving a previously served user) and users who are more likely than average to dwell on the ad.

Implementation Details

Brand Awareness will be a new campaign-level objective in Facebook’s buying system, and selecting it for a buy will trigger the BAO buying method at the ad set level. As one might expect, all ads within the ad sets will then run with BAO optimization.

The reporting interface will see changes as well. Facebook will start presenting estimated ad recall as a reporting metric, derived from a statistical model describing the relationship between dwell time and ad recall. This change will enable advertisers to predict, with a reasonable degree of confidence, what the Brand Effect results of their campaign will be without needing to wait until the official study is delivered weeks after the campaign ends. Advertisers will benefit from this information in two ways: they can pull the plug early on campaigns with low projected recall, and increase their investment levels when they see a campaign with an above-benchmark recall projection.

Conclusion and Recommendation

The BAO product is a breakthrough in coupling Facebook buying methods to business media goals. While the ad recall projection is only an estimate, it is an important step in enabling advertisers to move their focus away from page post engagements, which have no significant correlation with brand metrics. As Facebook continues its research about performance drivers of brand metrics beyond ad recall, we expect that this offering will expand as warranted by future findings.

This product update also indicates a forward-thinking mindset at Facebook. While the digital display space remains riven by conflict about viewability standards and fraudulent impressions, Facebook has moved past that to optimizing ad delivery for maximum dwell time against 100% in-view impressions.

BAO will be available to a limited group of advertisers in October, and will expand to the wider marketplace later in 2015. We encourage all advertisers using auction-based Facebook buys for brand marketing goals to test this buying method as soon as possible, and we will be working with our clients on reevaluating their buying strategies. Just as we were leaders on Reach and Frequency buying on Facebook, we will make sure that our clients continue to receive cutting-edge planning and execution that aligns with their business objectives.