Facebook launches Slideshow ads, reinvents animated GIFs for adverts in low bandwidth countries

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Social network Facebook continues on its seemingly unstoppable path to dominating the internet in low-to-mid income countries, with the launch today of a new advertising format called Slideshow. Developed by the Emerging Markets Team, which has spent two and a half years learning how to make Facebook work on feature phones with 2G connections, Slideshow builds video-style ads out of static images which adds movement and animation to ads in low-bandwidth environments.

To create a slideshow, product manager Nikila Srinivasan says, businesses can either use their own artwork or access stock photography and simple templates from the ad dashboard and build up a photo slideshow for animated ads. The final ad renders differently depending on the detected device and connection of the viewer. On an LTE connection, viewers might see a streaming video; on a 2G connection it becomes a series of images like an animated GIF.

“Only 29% of people who live in rural areas have access to 3G,” Srinivasan says, “But most people who use Facebook watch at least one video a day.”

Srinivasan says that many small businesses want to use video advertising, but it’s not easy.

“Video for small business can be challenging to produce,” Srinivasan says, citing budget issues. “And connectivity is a problem for those who want to watch.”

The ease of use of the Slideshow creation tools, then, is as important to success as the way they’re rendered. According to Facebook, a 15 second Slideshow ad is five times smaller than a video of the same length.

The Emerging Markets team was set up to plan for how Facebook would reach the vast numbers of people coming online for the first time over the next five years, and has been responsible for the introduction of initiatives at Facebook like 2G Tuesdays, when employees are limited to a simulated 2G connection for an hour at a time in order to empathise with users in countries where connectivity is problematic.

According to Facebook, users in low income countries where bandwidth is an issue are actually more receptive to video ads than those in more sophisticated economies. Kelly MacClean, who heads up the ads part of the Emerging Markets Team, says that screenshotting and sharing Facebook ads is popular with end-users in her target markets, and she has the stats to prove it:


Slideshow has been trialled in the US by companies like Netflix, says Srinivasan, which has created Slideshow ads to introduce characters for up and coming shows. But it’s also here in Africa already. A campaign by Coca-Cola in Nigeria and Kenya using Slideshow doubled expectations reaching two million people earlier this year.

There are, of course, many precedents for Slideshow. The animated GIF has been a staple part of internet communications for many years, and photofilms have proved a powerful artform for online documentaries. It’s the ease of use that Facebook is counting on to make Slideshow a success, however, both from the point of businesses who don’t have the skills or finance to produce slick campaigns themselves and multinationals who want to be able to deploy marketing materials globally.

While Facebook is undoubtedly popular in lower and mid income countries, it’s not a given that Facebook ads are the most effective way of reaching potential customers either.

Those who are sceptical of Facebook’s intentions towards the developing world with its internet.org initiative may not be thrilled to learn that prt of the Emerging Markets Team’s brief – as described at the press conference today – seems to be to encourage businesses to use Facebook rather than the web as a landing page for marketing and ecommerce.

Slideshow is available in certain areas today and will be expanded globally over the next few months. Want to see what it looks like? See below…

Adam Oxford

Adam Oxford

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.