Facebook’s recent revelation -- and subsequent apology -- that it had miscalculated video viewing times over the past two years was a bad piece of PR for a platform that takes great pride in being a leading seller of video. But Facebook has the massive scale that advertiser clamor for, so it will endure bad PR and continue to help brands reach their audience. In fact, some agencies are already moving past the error, continuing to buy on Facebook without worry, because they don’t use average-time-spent as a metric to buy media.
Facebook’s recovery is good news for stockholders, but what of the advertisers that invested millions of dollars on inaccurately measured media -- some of which was overestimated by 60% to 80%, according to The Wall Street Journal? These advertisers and agencies have essentially based their understanding of the channel on an error. If nothing else, Facebook’s video snafu exposes the need for deeper verification and standards within online walled gardens.
But it also exposes the need for deeper accountability across the Web, which is hardly news. The uncomfortable truth is that until recently, advertisers have not made it a priority to get these tools.
It’s true that the average video viewing time may not be the ultimate metric that brand advertisers use to buy and measure the effectiveness of their campaigns, but it is a component of their campaign measurement. Much of what you’ll read about online and addressable media is the ability to measure how the consumer interacts with an ad, and how those signals help the systems improve over time so that advertisers understand how to match the right ad to the right consumer at the right time. This is what advertisers have publicly demanded, but conversely they’ve invested heavily on closed environments that don’t provide sufficient or objective metrics.
While Facebook’s mistake is very likely an honest one, the long-term effect is that this mistake has marred one component of the measurement and optimization equation, leaving advertisers less secure in all of the analysis they’ve conducted over the past two years. Yes, view time may be one small piece, but one small piece can upset the chain of decisions about where to annually invest tens of millions of dollars.
Facebook is reportedly sharing more information with advertisers so that they can dig through their engagement numbers, but this raises other questions. Why weren’t advertisers provided with that data in the past? Did they want it? Did they even know it existed? Did they care? Again, if the trend is that all media is addressable, there is no reason that advertisers shouldn’t have access to data about how consumers interact with the media.
It would be easy to point the blame at Facebook here, but that’s not particularly fair. Facebook has been providing advertisers with what they’ve requested: audience scale and targeting solutions. Advertisers who see their sales and conversions go up are likely to reinvest, and those who don’t will reassess.
The trouble is that this is an outdated way of thinking about media strategy. Online campaigns should not be single campaigns that are built, executed, and then analyzed. They should be ongoing, with constant analysis and optimization based on new findings, working in as much first-, second- and third-party data as possible. This is inconceivable without outside verification tools and accountability into all metrics.
All of which makes true transparency difficult to achieve within a walled-garden environment like Facebook. Advertisers have privately longed for an open-Web alternative to Facebook and Google that can match or come close to their scale. You can expect those grumbles to grow louder now.
Advertisers and agencies need to be more forceful in their demands for accountability and transparency into all of their campaign metrics. As we saw earlier this year with the Association of National Advertisers' report on kickbacks, the advertising industry is rife with opportunity to profit off buyers who aren’t asking the right questions or paying attention.
Facebook is not a dishonest player -- far from it -- but its mistake, and the fact that no one on the buy side noticed or raised the issue, is telling. These are the kinds of things that advertisers should be exposing through the use of their own tool sets.
Issues like fraud and kickbacks may be getting headlines and scaring some advertisers, but the scariest issue right now might actually be advertisers’ own complacence and a refusal to understand what the numbers mean. Accountability is a great buzzword that can bring comfort to brand CMOs, but those brands need to push to get the kind of accountability they’re after.