Advertisers should start demanding more of Facebook and Google when it comes to the metrics they offer, according to a number of marketers.
Facebook has come in for criticism after it found more errors in the way it measures some digital metrics. In August, it admitted it had overstated video views by as much as 80% and now it has said it also found problems with the way it measured app referrals, ‘complete’ video views (how many people watched through to the end) and traffic to Instant Articles.
Facebook has attempted to paint a positive picture, highlighting the work it is doing to weed out the issues and systems it is putting in place to ensure it better serves the advertiser community.
However, many have pointed out that this only happened once a Wall Street Journal investigation spotted the extent of the original problem. And Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson, while not saying any of this is deliberate, has called it “weird” that almost all the errors overstated the metrics and worked in Facebook’s favour.
In a recent column he explains: “Even the most cynical critic of digital marketing metrics (that would be me) would not accuse the company of deliberately misrepresenting its video data to appear more competitive. But it was indeed fortunate that the miscalculation, first of all, was in Facebook’s favour and, second, helped present an improved picture of its main Achilles’ heal – the duration of time people watch its videos.”
Brands must be ‘militant’
Facebook has highlighted that none of the metrics directly affected billable measures. Yet is difficult not to argue that they might have had an affect on how brands allocate spend, particularly as they made users appear more engaged and content more effective than it really was.
One of the big things that worries me about the world today is that most digital metrics are… unreliable.
David Wheldon, RBS Group
And that is a concern given the duopoly Facebook, along with Google, has in digital media. According to AA/Warc, digital advertising accounted for almost 45% of all ad spend in 2015 and is set to overtake ‘traditional’ in the next couple of years. And Facebook and Google account for the overwhelming majority of that, around 75% according to eMarketer.
That gives Facebook and Google a lot of power over the digital ad ecosystem. Yet David Wheldon, CMO at RBS Group, has called their metrics “unreliable”.
Speaking at The Marketing Society’s annual conference yesterday, he used the example of the launch of Natwest’s most recent ad. After it went live, he said, Google rang him to tell him the “good news” that the ad had got 55 million impressions and 7.5 million views. Yet he questions what those metrics even mean and highlights that it is in fact sharing, commenting and advocacy that matters to him and the brand.
“One of the big things that worries me about the world today is that most digital metrics are… unreliable. I’m really worried about that. I should not be flippant because it matters a lot,” he added.
And Patrick Barwise, emeritus professor of management and marketing at London Business School, said he is “militant” about the problem and issued a call to arms to brand marketers, and ISBA in particular, to tackle the issue.
“I would like to see ISBA in particular saying ‘Facebook, Google and so on, you’re loaded with money, most of which comes from us thank you very much, and you will set up independent measurement equivalents to what we hold traditional media to’,” he told Marketing Week.
“We want the equivalent of BARB. We want a definition of what constitutes a view. We want someone independent to audit it. We want it to be industry wide, not each of you giving us your own stuff. We obviously want it checked for bots and fraud and all those things. Let’s have a definition of how much of a video a consumer has to at least be exposed to before we count it.”
What brands should demand
In Facebook’s defence, it is doing its own work to sort the problem. It says the errors came about because of bugs in their calculations, not flaws in their measurement. And it is on the newly formed Coalition for Better Ads.
“We are committed to doing what we need to do to provide the industry with more clarity, and give the industry more confidence in our metrics,” said Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s ad boss, speaking to Recode. “We have an unwavering commitment to getting this right at any given moment, knowing that it is going to continue to evolve.”
And ISBA says it is too easy to give Facebook “a kicking” and that the site is trying to “get its house in order”, albeit a little slower than the industry body would like. It also welcomed the introduction of a measurement council made up of people from across the industry to work on what measurements are needed.
Yet Facebook will need to go further. Many brands are becoming concerned. Tesco’s Michelle McEttrick told Marketing Week that the issue is “on our radar and we are talking to our agencies about it”. At the moment, she does not expect it to affect how much they spend on social media but said she is talking to Facebook about the issue as well.
Andrew Cocker, senior marketing director at Expedia, has said he expects to see a “drive to make things more measurable”.
“There is too much ad fraud, too much clickbait, too much deceptive behaviour. Publishers are going to have to provide more data than they have ever had to do before because some are already doing that and if they don’t, they will be playing catch-up and lost relevance to buyers,” he explained.
His sentiments are mirrored by Giles Gordon, brand director at John Frieda. He said advertisers feel social media owners need to increase investment in metrics so brands can “make the right decisions to drive the most effective touchpoint strategy”.
At the moment, while some marketers have put their head above the parapet to criticise Facebook and Google, most are taking a wait and see approach. Digital media is still in its infancy and it does take time to work out metrics and the standards to be used across an industry. However, with Facebook and Google becoming ever more important in marketers’ strategy this needs fixing.
And if isn’t, Barwise believes brands, agencies and the industry more generally should take a stand.
“I would recommend the big agencies and ISBA say we will go on strike. We will delist Facebook. We will not use Facebook or the other guys until they do this. They really need to be called out on this, it is outrageous,” he concluded.