Facebook 'internationalizes' awards with global bracket system

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The social network seeks to eliminate cultural bias and raise its own profile as a global ad platform

In its latest bid to grow its business outside North America, Facebook is restructuring its advertising awards to better emphasize work from beyond America’s borders.  

This year, the Facebook Awards will institute a regional bracket system that will crown winners for each category in four regions — North America, Latin America, EMEA and Asia-Pacific — then pit those local winners against one another to determine overall honorees.

The idea, Facebook executives say, is to ensure that all work is first judged within its own cultural context and to give work from emerging regions or companies a fighting chance at international recognition.

"We want to bring people into the evaluation process from those countries that can evaluate the work on an even playing ground, to make sure that they at least have a fair shot to be celebrated when they deserve it," said Jason Fournier, Facebook’s marketing manager, creativity and brand.

This year’s Facebook Awards will also feature new categories, including a Small Business Award "for those small-business owners that have earned effective eye-opening results," Fournier said.

The move comes as Facebook puts increasing focus on its business in emerging markets, both among consumers and advertisers. Nearly half of Facebook’s $4.3 billion in advertising revenue came from North America in the third quarter, though the region accounted for just 14% of its 1.5 billion monthly active users. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has noted that "the next billion" users will come from regions outside North America.

In May, the company launched a lightweight ad unit, "Slideshow," that is viewable on mobile phones with slow connections. The company has also been working to bring free Internet access to people in developing countries with its controversial Internet.org program.

Now, by ensuring that each region will have its own set of Facebook Award winners, and increasing the likelihood that a non-Western brand could win top honors, Facebook hopes to boost its profile with advertisers in foreign countries.

"For instance, we're going to have a regional judging event in Singapore, where all the work that came in from APAC will be evaluated," said Fournier. "So a piece of work in Thailand will be evaluated against a piece of work in Indonesia. What that will create is this ‘Best of APAC’ story, and really unlock another round of storytelling around the best work coming out of each of those respective regions."

Finding international work to honor shouldn’t be a problem: Of 2,700 Facebook Awards submissions in 2015, 37% came from Asia-Pacific, 30% from EMEA, 21% from Latin and just 21% from North America.

Initially known as the Facebook Studio Awards, the Facebook Awards were launched in 2012 to elevate the company’s profile as an advertising platform by acknowledging the brands that use it best. Previous winners include The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from The ALS Association in 2015 and If We Made it by Heineken and Droga5 in 2014. Previously, winners were chosen by Facebook’s "creative council" (a panel of about 20 creative directors pulled mostly from the agency world) from a shortlist handpicked by Facebook’s internal creative team.

Though tiny in comparison to mainstream advertising awards (it is expected to receive about 4,000 submissions in 2016; by comparison, the Cannes Lions received about 40,000 submissions in 2015), the Facebook Awards hold particular value for agencies looking to showcase their skills executing on the world’s largest social network.

The awards also provide guidance to creatives looking to make better use of the network, said Rob Schwartz, CEO of TBWA/Chiat/Day New York.

"Creatives need this inspiration," he said. "Even though we all seem to be on the platform, I don’t believe there is common understanding of what best practice is."

Global advertising awards like the Cannes Lions have long been accused of harboring a cultural bias, intentional or otherwise, that skews results from countries better represented among the juries.

Though jury rooms are increasingly diverse, particularly in terms of gender, said Schwartz, "there are still alliances that are made: Latin American people seem to vote for a lot of Latin American stuff, and Australians and New Zealanders work their axis. There is still that sense in some of the shows of regional quid pro quo." With the bracket system, "hopefully you can lose some of that behavior," he added.

Though it was not Facebook’s intention to influence other awards shows, "one business can always inspire another business," said Fournier.

"We feel if we make the process as simple and as transparent as possible that everybody can learn about what’s going on, that’s a good thing," he said.

The submission period for the 2016 Facebook awards runs from Jan. 8 through April 1. Awards will comprise five categories: Best Use of Facebook Family of Brands (the overall winner for best use of Facebook and Instagram), Innovation, Small Business, Social for Good and Integrated. Awards can be given to any work that appears on either Facebook, Instagram or both. Global winners will be selected by a global judging panel in June.

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