TLDR: Facebook’s collection ads update creates an interactive catalog for the digital age.


Get ready…we’re about to throw some history at you.

Benjamin Franklin issued the very first mail order catalog, featuring a collection of “choice and valuable books” for sale, but the idea didn’t truly take off until Aaron Montgomery Ward entered the scene. He started producing the Montgomery Ward mail order catalog in 1872. The first issue was a humble one pager, featuring 163 items. In a little over a decade, the catalog had grown—to a whopping 240 pages. It seems that variety was key, and household items were better sellers than books (sorry Ben).


We’ve come a long way from the days of the first mail order catalog, to the point where sales of traditional print catalogs have declined because so many products can be easily found and bought online. Business Insider reports that the number of catalogs sent has been halved since 2007. During 2007, retailers sent out 19.6 million catalogs. In contrast, 2016 saw this number drop to 9.8 million. While print has seen a decline with the advancement of digital media, catalogs still have elements that are effective. Facebook has seen the potential, giving new life to the traditional catalog and translating it to a digital platform.


What are collection ads?

The Collection ad format was debuted on Facebook in March, featuring a video on the top half of the ad, with four recommended products directly below. Retailers have the option to choose which products they want displayed beneath the video.  Alternatively, they can allow Facebook to choose for them, based on the most popular products on their website. When someone clicks on the ad in their newsfeed, they’re taken to a landing page and can view up to 50 different products. When they click on the product they want to buy, they’re taken to the retailer’s mobile site or app to make their purchase. The end goal? To introduce new products and increase sales.


How does the update help print catalogs translate to mobile?

The new update allows retailers to go beyond video and featured products. New “lifestyle templates” provide a full-screen template or “page” where a lifestyle image can be uploaded, and products within the image can be tagged. Seeing how products can be used provides the user with the inspiration traditionally found in a catalog. In lieu of product descriptions written directly on a page, the tagging feature allows users to click on different products in the photo for information on each one. Store locator cards can also be added to the template to direct users to the brick-and-mortar location that’s closest to them.


As a user, you’ll get the look of a catalog, but the interactivity that comes with a digital ad. These ads show up right in your newsfeed. Once you click on the ad, you can click on the tagged items in the photo to view prices and product descriptions. Scrolling down will bring you to another “page” with a different lifestyle image featuring different products, further adding to the catalog feel. If you’re interested in purchasing a product, clicking on “shop now” will take you directly to the retailer’s online store.


What can this do for you as an advertiser?

Unlike a print catalog, the lifestyle templates allow for more specific targeting. You can even create custom audiences to engage with high-intent consumers who have already interacted with retail ads on Facebook. As a result, you’ll be more likely to get user engagement with the new format. Facebook will also target based on interests. For example, if a user has shown interest in updating their kitchen, they’ll be targeted with lifestyle templates featuring new kitchen appliances.


If you want to showcase a new product-line, or if you’re looking to switch completely to digital marketing, these ads are a great way to keep the feel of your traditional print catalog, but transfer it to a platform where you’re more likely to get user engagement and keep driving up sales. Currently, these ads are being tested with a small group of retailers, but the new feature is predicted to be rolled out for everyone in October—just in time for the holiday season.


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