Last week I went into the belly of one the many beasts digital marketers attempt to navigate on a daily basis: Facebook. 

I was there to watch a presentation by two of Facebook’s product marketing managers, Jennifer Spies and Brendan Sullivan, on a new advertising platform called Slideshow.

It’s the social network’s latest attempt to target what it sees as the extremely lucrative emerging markets, and it will also be coming to Instagram at some point. 

For anyone who vaguely follows social media news, it’s no secret that Facebook is increasingly trying to build a presence in these emerging markets: parts of Africa and South America, for example, where technology usage differs greatly from that in the developed world. 

Its Internet.org project, though supposedly not a commercial venture, is a recent and very well publicised example of this.

In this post I’m going to give an overview of the new product along with some of the research Facebook shared about the trends and challenges in terms of digital marketing in the emerging markets. 

What’s so attractive about the emerging markets?

On the surface of it, you only need to look at Facebook’s current mission statement for the answer:

Reach everybody, across any level of connectivity, how and when they want to connect.

It all sounds rather romantic, but there are also a number of commercial reasons for investing time and money in this part of the world. 

The emerging markets are the biggest areas of growth for Facebook, which is not surprising when you learn that 85% of the world’s population lives in these areas.

90% of those people are under 30 and many are only just going online for the first time.

Spies says: 

As a company we realised increasingly our users and customers were coming from other places, so we had to build products that worked in these markets.

All of this presents a number of opportunities and challenges in terms of marketing to these demographics, and Facebook sees them as the next logical step in terms of ‘building for the next billion’ coming online. 

Where does Slideshow come in?

How does this new product help Facebook achieve its goal of conquering this part of the world (not literally, we hope)?

Slideshow is an advertising product that lets brands quickly create videos from a series of still images. These are generally around five times smaller than an ordinary video of the same length.

This means they can post social video ads that don’t hoover up too much memory or data and display consistently across all types of device and connectivity across the world. 

The platform is effectively a way for Facebook to offer a ‘light’ option for advertisers, and follows on from the introduction of Facebook Lite earlier this year. 

Referring to how the product fits in to the emerging markets, Sullivan says:

We were thinking about issues of connectivity, cost of data, and how we could build a valuable and positive experience for those people.

Below you can see a comparison from a recent Coca-Cola campaign using the platform, with the original video ad on the smartphone (right) and the Slideshow content on the feature phone (left). 

facebook slideshow

Sullivan believes the platform will appeal to SMEs who don’t have access to a video production department, but also to larger multinational brands who need to reach people on slower connections. 

Facebook wrote a blog post including a video showing how the platform works, but sadly I can’t embed the video here. Feel free to check it out, though. 

Challenges in the emerging markets

When it comes to access and devices, only 29% of people in rural areas have access to 3G, let alone 4G, and the majority of people use low-end Android feature phones

But even for those who have a modern smartphone or a 3G connection, the relative cost of data can be high. 

Localisation is also an issue. You have to make sure things appear in the right language, using the appropriate tone, and that they resonate well in all those different markets. 

But despite the challenges these markets often lead in innovation, Spies says. 

In the UK 5% of credit card transactions go through smartphone, but in Kenya 43% of GDP is through mobile money.

So even though there are huge barriers in terms of cost and connectivity, you see some of the most interesting and innovative solutions coming out of these markets.

Trends in the emerging markets

The landscape is quickly changing in terms of devices and connectivity, largely driven by floods of cheap mobile devices into the market, with people being able to pick up an old smartphone for as little as $30 in places.

This is happening much quicker than anyone anticipated, Spies explains, which in turn means there are already far more people online in the emerging markets than expected. 

About a third of people across the emerging markets who access Facebook regularly on a mobile still do it through a feature phone, but now more than ever smartphones are rapidly entering the market. 

Millions of these users are also ‘mobile-only’, i.e. they’re coming online for the first time using a mobile device and they will likely never do it through a desktop. 

Another key trend is the way consumers in a lot of the emerging markets view ads: much more favourably than in other parts of the world such as Western Europe or the US. 

“They love connecting with brands and stories that resonate with them,” Spies says, describing how the team at Facebook have even witnessed people taking screenshots of ads and then sharing them with friends on the social network. 

Emerging markets mobile stats

Then there’s the way people react to local challenges such as payment infrastructure or transport. 

Sullivan talked about a telecoms business owner in Malaysia who was able to look at trends for all of his mobile phone towers and then send staff out on motorbikes to the underperforming ones in order to ramp up the marketing efforts. 

This coming together of modern technology and existing local infrastructure is becoming an increasing trend across these regions. 

Conclusion: an interesting concept, but this is only the start

I think Facebook is on to something when it comes to the emerging markets. 

We are living in an increasingly international world, and with more and more people going online for the first time in all these different parts of the world, it is time for digital marketers to start thinking about how they can connect with such a huge and largely untapped digital audience.

Slideshow doesn’t necessarily provide all the answers, but it certainly starts to explore the question of how to market digitally to millions of people who are all using different devices on different connections. 

It’s a massive challenge, but it will be really interesting to see what other companies, along with Facebook, come up with in the coming years to overcome it.