Update, 2:30 p.m. Eastern: We have some good news for irritated Facebook phone users. In the coming weeks Facebook plans to add controls to let users hide all those pesky mobile ads if they so desire, a Facebook spokesperson told The Atlantic Wire this afternoon. Much to the chagrin of the legion of mobile Facebookers, most smartphone ad units don't yet feature those desktop controls pictured at right, which let users fine-tune their Facebook ad experience. Recognizing that some people want to hide certain (or all!) ads — especially on a smartphone, where they can take up the full length and width of your screen — the social network will add an X option for hiding content. The new feature will first be available on iOS, with Android to follow later, the company spokesperson told us.
Original: Facebook users are starting to get agitated with the social network's mobile ads — and it's getting to a point where they're threatening to cut back on usage or even quit altogether, which could prove problematic since mobile growth is propelling Facebook's revenue. Phone ads brought in $375 million, or 30 percent, of the company's total $1.25 billion in ad revenue last quarter, Facebook reported Wednesday night. That's up from 23 percent a year ago. Part of the mobile success has to do with more people visiting Facebook — and every site — on their phones in general, but it also has to do with a year-long doubling down by Facebook that's manifested itself in invasive, impossible-to-ignore phone ads.
One of the most popular features to Facebook advertisers is the sponsored app, which allows developers to advertise their apps, front and center, on Facebook for smartphones. While that's great for Facebook and a legion of app makers, the creeping reality of more ads on Facebook's mobile platform is starting to overwhelm a lot of its users. See, unlike on the desktop version (pictured above at right), Facebook's mobile app doesn't allow users to experience advertising that's catered to their tastes; it's a get-what-you-see experience, not a take-what-you-want embrace. Plus, the general invasiveness of Facebook's mobile display ads, which take up the entire screen, is starting to turn people off.
A full two-thirds of Facebook users log on to the social network using their phones, so it may be a big problem if their advertising encounters are becoming annoying enough to make them want to log in less often. Facebook can't afford that — and it knows that it risks losing users altogether. Facebook evangelists often talk about creating an "ad experience" that users will like, and its whole sell to marketers and users is that Facebook serves the most "relevant" advertisements online. In that scenario, everyone wins: You get to learn about a product you might like, brands target the right people, and Facebook proves its worth.
And that win-win-win scenario does play out on Facebook's non-mobile edition, where users can hide certain ads or brands — or, conversely, "like" ads and brands they'd like to see more often. On the phone, however, there is no hiding, and users aren't afraid to hide their dislike for that: Salon's Andrew Leonard finds the constant bombardment of a particular advertisement distracting, to the point of using his phone for non-Facebook pastimes. "Convenience and utility were trumped by annoyance and disgust," he writes. "This morning, I realized that the next time I was waiting for my coffee to brew, I would be more likely to click on a different app to satisfy my endless craving for distraction." The same thing happened to The Next Web's Martin Bryant: "At least let me fine-tune their relevance," he complained of the Facebook mobile ads.
Both of these writers represent the type of user that didn't mind seeing ads in Facebook's app. "I am not opposed to online advertising. I understand that everyone needs to make a buck, and there will always be a price to pay for 'free' services. I am totally cool with that," writes Leonard. "Ads are a fact of life and I’m happy to be advertised to," added Bryant. Now just imagine how people who really don't like ads are starting to feel.