Why Advertisers Are Not All That Nonplussed By Facebook’s Ad Metrics Errors

fbmeasurementAdvertisers get a little antsy when they see headlines like “More Facebook Measurement Problems!” – but the sky didn’t fall when Facebook began what’s turned into an ongoing measurement mea culpa.

“I don’t have a single client that doubts the social and economic performance and importance of Facebook and all of their platforms,” said Rob Norman, GroupM’s chief digital officer and North America chairman. “And there is no advertiser I can think of that doesn’t believe Facebook is what it says it is.”

But that doesn’t mean advertisers weren’t thrown off by news of Facebook’s ad metrics discrepancies.

“When this news comes out, it makes for some difficult conversations with clients because the headlines they read make it sound really bad,” said Charlie Fiordalis, chief digital officer at mid-size indie agency Media Storm. “What we’ve tried to do is steer the conversation toward the need for third-party verification, the need to standardize what a viewable impression is.”

In September, Facebook revealed it had been overestimating video ad view time for the past two years. In November, Facebook admitted that it had erroneously inflated the number of people visiting Pages and the length of time spent reading Instant Articles. And in early December, Facebook copped to a few more measurement miscalculations around audience estimates and Live video reactions.

Let’s Talk

After Facebook’s first acknowledgement in September, Media Storm explained to its clients that the error, although jarring, would not have a material impact on their campaigns past or present.

“We didn’t want them to think that we were duped in any way,” Fiordalis said. “We’re supposed to be on the front line for clients, foreseeing the problems so they don’t get ripped off.”

But Media Storm doesn’t regularly report on time spent on video. “It’s more the type of thing you’d look at to inform deeper insights for optimization or strategic planning,” Fiordalis said. So the agency didn’t have to revise reports, scramble to update decks or presentations or reschedule any end-of-year meetings as a result of Facebook’s measurement issues.

At GroupM, Facebook’s measurement problems have come up in talks with clients, but there hasn’t been “any air to clear between agencies and advertisers,” Norman said.

Although the Facebook issue “has certainly added meetings to the calendar,” the tenor of meetings hasn’t been contentious or awkward, he said.

“We don’t have many meetings with advertisers that aren’t awkward,” Norman quipped.

Facebook still fulfilled campaign goals, Norman said, since its problematic metrics weren’t buying metrics.

However, those erroneous metrics may have encouraged clients to allocate more budget to Facebook.

“And, as a result, both they and their representatives, in this case us, were somewhat put out by that,” Norman said. “And so, we’ve tried to understand, with our clients, what the scale of the problem is and if indeed we did make those decisions at all.”

What Measurement Issues?

But other advertisers weren’t impacted even peripherally.

Adam Cahill, CEO and founder of programmatic agency Anagram, said his clients haven’t even mentioned the issue to him.

That’s mainly because Cahill’s clients are looking for performance – mostly conversions. How much time someone spent watching a video isn’t a metric they’re all that concerned with in the first place.

“I can see it maybe being a bigger deal if you’re at a really big agency and you’re looking at Facebook more in terms of shifting television dollars and you’re trying to normalize Facebook views to GRPs,” Cahill said. “But we generally try to limit the number of directional metrics we present to clients, because part of the argument we’re making is that we want to be measured on outcomes.”

Facing Facts

Facebook’s revelations haven’t caused a crisis of trust among advertisers as much as it’s created a lot of moral outrage. Cahill sees Facebook’s math problems as ammunition for agencies gunning for more third-party measurement inside the walled gardens.

“This is about leverage,” he said. “The buying community, mainly agencies, see this as a few chinks in Facebook’s armor and they’re making a bigger deal out of it than it actually is.”

But that’s not to say that agencies, regardless of their size, can force Facebook’s hand.

“The fact is, agencies have close to zero leverage of influence,” Cahill said. “When push comes to shove, even at the massive holding company level, agencies won’t be able to make Facebook do anything it doesn’t think feels right for its users.”

And even if Facebook’s measurement errors had been more material, the buy side would just have had to trust that Facebook would come out with “a rational make-good that would help us save face with our clients and tell a story,” Fiordalis said.

“But if they just said, ‘No, eat crow’ – well, we’d have to and it would be tough,” he said. “You can’t really effectively operate without Facebook.”

As another media exec who declined to be named put it, “Facebook performance is so good that, big picture, I don’t think anyone could reasonably allocate less money based on questions about these metrics.”

Enjoying this content?

Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more!

Join Today!