Facebook’s Instant Articles format is supposed to be a better, faster version of the web’s standard article page. Now it’s adding what has become, for better or worse, a hallmark of digital publishing’s current state: ads within below-the-fold “recommended articles” boxes.
On Thursday, Facebook announced that all Instant Articles publishers can feature ads within the “Related Articles” section appearing below their actual articles. Facebook had started to test these ads in March 2017 and had seen that they generate an “incremental increase” in the amount of money publishers can make per thousand page views, according to a company blog post published on Thursday.
Facebook describes these ads as “native” ads, even though they’re really not. Here’s an example that Facebook included in today’s blog post:
The ads appear to be the same photo-and-link ads that typically appear in people’s Facebook feeds, but now they’re placed among a feed of article links. In fact, to feature an ad inside an Instant Article’s “Related Articles” section, a publisher must be part of Facebook’s Audience Network that Facebook uses to syndicate its news feed ads across an ad network of third-party sites and apps. And when publishers configure their Instant Articles to feature these ads, they are instructed to select “Banner” as the format.
I’m waiting to hear back from a Facebook spokesperson about whether there are any requirements that an ad link to a piece of branded content — in keeping with the connotation of the “Related Articles” placement — and whether the slot is limited to banner-style photo-and-link ads or whether it can also include native video ads that play inline.
I’m also waiting to hear whether advertisers buying Instant Articles inventory from Facebook have any control over whether their ads appear within the “Related Articles” section or not.