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The history of Facebook advertising: a timeline

Facebook advertising has become a marketing “must have” for businesses across the globe. That’s why (at last counting) more than 6 million individual companies are now making use of the world’s most popular social media platform to advertise their businesses, products, and services to the masses.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Facebook’s meteoric rise to advertising channel prominence has taken some interesting and unexpected turns along the way.

Here’s how it happened…


2,800,000 BC: Humans first appear on the earth. “social networking” (as it will eventually come to be known) is primarily conducted through a series of grunts, moans, and physical assaults. Very few products are advertised for approximately the next 2,801,800 years.


960 AD: The world’s first known printed advertisement is created in China. It is an ad for discount mattresses with no interest for 36 months! (Just kidding. It advertises the Liu Family Needle Shop in Jinan. Apparently, family needle shops faced stiff competition during the Song Dynasty for some reason)


2004: Facebook is founded by a loveable group of Harvard nerds. Little do they suspect that they will eventually wind up hating each others’ guts.

2004: The first form of Facebook advertising appears on the fledgling website: the “Facebook Flyer”. As the site remains strictly Harvard University-centric, Facebook flyers are purchased by Harvard students promoting events and some local businesses (at very reasonable rates). Keg party attendance skyrockets on campus.

2005: Facebook begins experimenting with more profitable forms of advertising, inking a deal with partypoker.net which nets Facebook $300 USD for every new subscriber who signed up via Facebook. New visitors to the poker website are disappointed to realize how misleading the name “party poker” truly is.

2005: A Facebook group sponsored by Apple appears on the website. Apple agrees to pay Facebook $1 USD monthly for every member.

2006: Facebook announces that it has agreed to a marketing partnership with investment banking giant JP Morgan Chase.

2006: Online gambling is outlawed in the USA. Facebook is forced to drop Partypoker.net as an advertising client. The $60,000 USD per month ad revenue party is over

2007: A strategic advertising partnership is born, as Microsoft purchases a 1.6% share of Facebook for $240 million, becoming Facebook’s exclusive provider of banner advertising and sponsored links as an important condition of the deal.

2007: Facebook goes mobile

2007: Facebook launches its “Marketplace” classified ads application. For some reason, nobody cares.

2007: Facebook Ads is launched. Any company can now purchase advertising on the Facebook platform with relative ease, and many do. For the time being, all ads are relegated to a new column of the far right hand side of the Facebook Newsfeed.

2008: In the midst of a global recession, Facebook generously invites any and all commercial entities to create a “Facebook Page” for free. What a stunning act of selfless kindness!

2009: Facebook begins offering advanced targeting options to advertisers. Users can now be targeted for advertising based on language and geographical data.

2009: Facebook Page owners can now set up and manage their own ads.

2011: Facebook introduces “Sponsored Stories”. Everyone finally finds out which of their friends will do basically anything for money.

2012: Facebook launches “mobile ads”, which makes sense because the transition from the desktop computer to the mobile device is now in full swing.

2012: 1 billion people are now registered Facebook users.

2012: “The Social Graph” is unleashed. It gives Facebook’s advertisers access to user behavioral data like never before.

2012: Retargeting becomes a thing as Facebook unveils cookie-based targeting application “The Facebook Exchange”.

2013: Facebook launches “Video Ads”.

2013: Facebook introduces “Lookalike Audiences”, enabling advertisers to reach Facebook users who share similar characteristics to their existing customers.

2013: Retargeted ads begin appearing in users’ newsfeeds. Accidentally clicking on a link to a Disney Store website now promises to fill one’s Facebook newsfeed with ads for Disney products for the rest of his or her life.

2013: Mobile ads now account for more than 40% of Facebook’s total ad revenues.

2014: Facebook’s Video Ads go “Premium”, meaning that they begin playing as soon as they appear on a user’s Newsfeed.

2014: Facebook rolls out its 3-level advertising campaign structure, now offering “campaigns” and “ad sets” in addition to its plain old “ads”.

2014: “Carousel Ads” are introduced. More images for your viewing pleasure.

2015: Dynamic Product Ads are launched. Those lamps you looked at on the Ikea website last week? Guess what: they are on your timeline now. Yes, all of them.

2015: “Facebook Pixel” goes live. Performance data, conversion tracking, custom audiences, and retargeting are only a click away.

2015: “Lead Ads” and “Canvas Ads” are unveiled. This Facebook advertising thing is getting much more complicated (and much more effective)

2016: Facebook’s new Messenger platform goes live. Facebook ads and chatbots are now a part of the Facebook Messenger experience.

2016: “Offline Conversions” is added to the Facebook advertising platform. The line between the Facebook world and the real world instantly becomes just a little blurrier.

2017: Delivery Insights are unveiled, giving advertisers a view into exactly where their ad dollars are going and who is seeing their ads.

2017: Facebook ads can now be split-tested. However, Facebook’s split-testing tools are rife with limitations.

The history of Facebook advertising

2018: Phrasee for Facebook goes live. The awesome power of artificial intelligence has arrived in the Facebook advertising domain. Forward-thinking brands quickly jump on board and see amazing results.




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