New Delhi: Sandeep Bhushan, director- India, South Asia, Facebook, believes that as digital penetration increases, not just Facebook’s user base but also the time spent on the platform is going up and brands can take advantage of that. He dismisses reports that Facebook is losing its charm especially among young users.

“We are not seeing any drop off in logins, in fact our monthly and daily logins are going up," he said. Facebook currently works with both global and homegrown advertisers in India, including consumer goods firms like P&G, e-commerce platform Amazon, cosmetic giant L’Oreal along with India-headquartered companies such as ICICI Bank, Flipkart and cab hailing app Ola, among others. In an interview with Mint, Bhushan talks about Facebook as an advertising platform, the popularity of video ads and dealing with fake news and inappropriate content. Edited excerpts:

Unilever recently threatened to pull the plug on advertising on social media, including Facebook, unless it weeds out divisive content. What are the measures taken by Facebook to deal with what Unilever calls toxic content?

We fully support Unilever’s commitments and are working closely with them. Protecting our community is important, which is why we’ve taken several steps over the last few months to invest in people and technology to address these industry-wide challenges. We have outlined our ad principles, detailed our plans to further brand safety and advertiser transparency on our platform and are working with independent third-party fact-checking organizations to curb the spread of false news. These challenges go beyond Facebook and we’re also working with other companies and governments to tackle some of the most difficult problems, from false news to inappropriate content.

How do you see Facebook as a platform for advertising in India?

Facebook’s strength, as an advertising platform, comes from the scale it has in India with 217 million monthly active users (MAUs). This is the potential reach that any advertiser has on Facebook. We offer products such as reach and frequency which lets a brand target a person multiple times to build awareness. Facebook allows brands to speak to specific individuals through superior targeting. For instance, a brand can reach only female consumers in Dehradun who own an iPhone. Such a superior segmentation leads to better return on ad spends. We work with third-party partners such as Nielsen to validate our segmentation quality. Currently, Facebook works with the top 200 advertisers in the country. Millions of small advertisers (it could be a startup or a boutique firm) can also advertise, starting with a dollar, to their specific audience; one does not need a media agency to advertise anymore.

What are the key consumer trends?

One big trend is visual communication has taken lead over text and our photo sharing app Instagram is leading this trend. An increasing number of users prefer sharing pictures on Instagram, chat platform WhatsApp and on Facebook’s messenger app. Video is another big trend in India and its definition is slightly different for Facebook. For us, video is anything that a user can shoot from his/her phone with a duration ranging from five seconds to an hour. A video on our platform can be an Instagram or Facebook story which is 15-second long and lasts only for a day or it could be a static as well as a live video. So, as bandwidth improves and smartphones become more affordable, video will gain more popularity. I believe, Facebook has democratized video and allows anybody to broadcast from anywhere, anytime.

How are brands making use of videos?

The mobile-first five-second video ads are extremely popular. They are quick to communicate the brand proposition while also giving a link to know more about the product or service being advertised. Another popular format is Facebook Live which is a long-form video and engages more in the form of likes and comment.

Advertisers like Hindustan Unilever have used our multiple video formats when they launched Lakme Mousse Lip & Cheek Color under its 9to5 range of makeup targeting women between 21 and 35 years of age. Their biggest asset was a 5-15-second ad which created curiosity which was followed by a series of bite-sized videos and animated GIFs to create awareness about the new range.

What are the top of brand categories that spend most on Facebook?

The categories are roughly in line with the advertising expenditure (Adex) of the market which is automobile, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) and e-commerce category.

What percentage of your overall traffic comes from mobile phones? How are you making sure that brands make the most of this medium?

Facebook usage is virtually entirely mobile with above 97% of daily logins coming from mobile devices. We are constructing every advertising program from a mobile medium perspective. The whole point of launching short form video ads is because consumer on mobile has an extremely short attention span which needs to be immediately captured by an interesting ad creative. However, we have noticed that once we have their attention they are willing to sample all form of ads.

Since mobile usage is deep with estimates ranging from two to four hours every day, social being a significant part of it, platforms like Facebook become a good advertising platform. Mobile has taken away the concept of advertising at prime time. For example, a cola drink company can show its ad in November to a user living in Mumbai, but for a user in Delhi the ad would be of a tea brand. Mass personalization is possible because of mobile advertising.

What are the challenges specific to the Indian market?

The biggest challenge is to deliver a seamless Facebook experience to users who are accessing our platform in a 2G connection. We have invested heavily in technology and engineering to create specially designed Facebook Lite app which takes less space and is, therefore, good for phones with low hard disk space. We have ad formats such as Slideshow which comprises static images which tend to work well on a 2G connection. Given that currently 70% of users still access internet through 2G services, these products matter.

What are your immediate targets?

Digital spends in India are still reported at 15% of total advertising expenditure while every estimate tells us that the consumer time spent on digital is far more than that. We have to bridge this gap between digital time spent and digital ad spends by bringing more advertisers on online publishing platforms. It will not only take Facebook but also a Unilever and GroupM to come together and bridge this gap. For that to happen, an industry accepted measurement metric is the need of the hour. Another area which needs immediate attention is ensuring a seamless communication strategy by brands and agencies which is platform agnostic.

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