Advertisers Forgive Facebook Measurement Blunders, But An MRC Audit Is Still Top Priority

Marketers aren’t all that wound up about Facebook’s recurring ad metric errors.

Bugs happen, said Alok Gupta, data science manager at Airbnb, speaking at a measurement event hosted by Facebook on Wednesday.

“You’re never going to build a perfect system immediately or ever,” Gupta said. “As long as the bugs or problems are identified quickly, communicated openly and transparently and are corrected thoroughly, that’s the best we can do.”

Last week, Facebook alerted advertisers that it has been overstating click-throughs on link-based video carousel ads running on its mobile sites. Facebook refunded advertisers affected by the error, which impacted 0.04% of total billed ad impressions.

The carousel issue was the latest in a series of measurement miscalculations since September, when Facebook revealed that it had been overestimating video ad view time since 2014. In November, Facebook copped to mistakenly inflating the number of people visiting Pages and the length of time spent reading Instant Articles, followed in December by a mix-up related to Live video reactions.

It sounds bad, but advertisers need to ask themselves “what is material versus what is just noise,” said Atin Kulkarni, global head of media and content innovation at PepsiCo.

“These bugs probably aren’t so bad compared to some of the other things happening out there,” Kulkarni said.

Larger Issues

Issues like ad fraud and a lack of cross-platform viewability standards perennially haunt the ad industry.

P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard summed up the situation in his speech at the IAB Leadership Meeting in January: “We’ve been giving a pass to the new media in the spirit of learning. We’ve come to our senses. We realize there is no sustainable advantage in a complicated, nontransparent, inefficient and fraudulent media supply chain.”

For its part, Facebook is taking seriously P&G’s threat to pull spend from platforms that don’t support the Media Rating Council standard for viewability by this year.

In February, Facebook agreed to undergo an independent MRC audit. The review will take place in three phases, said Brad Smallwood, Facebook’s VP of marketing science.

First, the MRC will audit Facebook’s served ad impressions. Next up, the MRC will audit the data Facebook shares with its third-party viewability measurement partners, including Moat, Integral Ad Science and comScore. The final step will be to enable advertisers to buy based on the MRC definition of a viewable impression.

In the meantime, as of Tuesday, Facebook’s verification partners – Moat, IAS and comScore – are including MRC metrics for display ads in their dashboards, meaning advertisers can see which of their Facebook ads are 50% in view for at least one second.

“At the end of the day, consistency is driven by a third-party ecosystem,” Smallwood said. “We’re focused on providing information into those systems.”

But Smallwood declined to share details on when the various phases of the MRC audit will be complete other than to say that they’re “well underway.”

Update: The MRC reached out Thursday afternoon to clarify that although it has agreed to conduct the audit in phases, the only phase of the audit as yet formally underway is the first – a review of Facebook’s served impression measurements – which is technically a resumption of an audit that the MRC had already begun with Facebook “quite some time ago” that had been paused at Facebook’s request in mid-2016.

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