50 top global news sites advertised on Facebook in past month

By Grzegorz Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


In the past month, 50 out 56 top news sites by the number of online subscribers advertised on Facebook. Here is what they used the ads for.

I released the first results of this study last week: 65% of the 4,625 ads that I retrieved from the Facebook’s Ad Library promoted the use of news products, while 24% advertised the subscription offers. The rest, or 11%, expanded reach of the publishers’ branded content campaigns on behalf of the third parties.

Here’s the detailed breakdown and the share of each category in the total number of ads observed in the study: 

  • Among the ads that promoted the use of news products, the largest number linked directly to individual articles (40% of the total number of ads), promoted mobile apps (15%), videos or podcasts (2%), and editorial features such as newsletters (2%).
  • Among the ads that promoted the subscription offers, the largest number promoted offers to new online subscribers (23% of the total number of ads), including price discounts or trials (14%), editorial benefits (6%), brand values or journalistic mission (2%). 

Here are some standing-out examples of the first category, the ads that promoted reading or adoption of the features: 

In the feedback after the last week’s newsletter, some INMA members, such as Karl Wells of The Wall Street Journal, pointed out limitations of my methodology and the sample used. This was so helpful to clarify that:

  • My study included ads from the main profiles of the news brands only, while many brands have multiple profiles on Facebook and Instagram – for sections or editions. Although the ads often are concentrated on the main and the most liked profiles, I might have reported fewer ads than the publishers bought.
  • My study also included ads from the core geographical markets only, for example the United States or France, while some brands market internationally. For example, according to my study, The Wall Street Journal run 845 ads. In fact, per Karl’s e-mail, it run a total of 2,400 ads.
  • My source of ads, the Facebook’s Ad Library, featured campaigns with multiple versions of one ad and individual ads that might have been a part of the same campaign. Therefore, I was told, it would be better to refer to “ads” rather than “campaigns.” For example, the WSJ run the largest number of ads in my sample, but many of the ads were actually just versions of the same concept refreshed to keep the campaigns efficient and relevant. In total, the Journal had in the studied period 50 campaigns across the funnel — from acquisition to brand marketing, to churn prevention.
  • My study provided a snapshot of the publishers’ activities in April. But without data on previous months, one should not draw any conclusions about whether these brands have changed anything in their advertising strategy during the pandemic. For example, in case of the Journal, there was no change. 

Join me for a Webinar meet-up on Wednesday, May 20, where I will discuss the video and audio initiatives of news publishers. Register here

Banner art courtesy of facebook ad library/freestocks.org from Pexels.

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