News sites advertise on Facebook to reach digital readers during crisis

By Grzegorz Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


In the past 30 days, the top subscription news brands advertised on Facebook apps to drive readers to their content and features, as well as to drive sales and increase reach of branded content campaigns. 

This is based on my new study of advertising activity of 56 brands on Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger. Using Facebook’s archive called Ad Library, I retrieved 4,625 ad campaigns active in the past 30 days prior April 22-30.

  • 65% or 2,987 ad campaigns promoted individual articles or features such as newsletters, apps, or podcasts.
  • 24% or 1,121 campaigns promoted the paid subscription offers.
  • 11% or 514 campaigns boosted reach of branded content campaigns sold to the third parties.

Out of 56 brands studied, 50 (or 89%) were actively advertising on Facebook apps in the past 30 days.

  • On average, publishers run 83 different campaigns. The median though was just 26 campaigns.
  • The list of the top advertisers by the number of campaigns features some of the world’s biggest subscription news brands — U.S. newspapers The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, U.K.-based news magazine The Economist and U.S.-based sports news app The Athletic, and national leaders such as Le Figaro and Le Monde in France, Bild in Germany, Clarin in Argentina, Gazeta Wyborcza in Poland, and The Times of London in the U.K.
  • Interestingly, it was The Wall Street Journal that ran the highest number of campaigns in the studied period at 845. 

Investigation of the ad activity of similar and competing news sites leads to surprises. For example, two leading business news brands — The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times — show a radically different approach to social as acquisition channels.

  • Both WSJ and FT actively publish on Facebook. The former had 6.4 million likes to its page at the end of April, and the latter — 3.9 million likes.
  • In the past 30 days, WSJ additionally boosted its content, promoted features and sales, with 845 different campaigns. In the same period, FT did not run any campaigns on Facebook.
  • According to FIPP Global Digital Subscriptions Snaphot Q2 2020, the WSJ has 2 million digital-only subscribers and the FT has 800,000. 

Let’s dive into advertising strategies of another pair: Le Figaro and Le Monde, two leading French news sites.

  • The two advertise on Facebook similarly often. They had 433 and 432 active campaigns in the past 30 days, respectively.
  • Their objectives, though, are different: Le Figaro put most of its money into driving installs of its apps, while Le Monde spread the expenditure towards boosting articles, selling new subscriptions and promoting features such as newsletters or videos on Facebook Watch.

Interested in more insights about the publishers’ ad activity on Facebook? You’ll find a full typology of 4,625 campaigns in the next week’s edition of this newsletter. 

Banner image courtesy of Jan Vašek from Pixabay.

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