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Facebook May Owe Brands Money, But Don’t Hold Your Breath


Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported and Facebook acknowledged that the social network had mistakenly inflated video metrics for two years.  The average video viewing time calculation did not include any views under three seconds. The problem is that when you discount all the three-seconds-and-under views, your success rate looks far greater than it actually is.

But did the advertiser pay for something they weren’t getting? Technically, no. If the advertiser were paying for views, then you could theorize that someone watching a video for less than three seconds didn’t actually view the video. But Facebook didn’t bill anyone for those views. In fact, they did just the opposite; they discarded them.

However, the problem with Facebook’s omission is more indirect. By artificially inflating view rate success, the network certainly (though unwittingly) convinced some brands to continue with what they may have thought to be successful video ad purchases when, in fact, they weren’t.

Look at it this way:

  • In reality, your video runs 1,000 times, and 500 people watch it.
  • Of those 500 people, the average watch time is 15 seconds.
  • Facebook, though, sees that 100 of those people watched for less than three seconds, so they deliver a metric to you that is different.
  • Facebook says the average watch time is 22 seconds now that they’ve omitted the under-three-seconds crowd.

Would a seven second (or 10 or two or whatever number) difference in that metric persuade a marketing team to add or subtract dollars from their spend? If you’ve ever been in a meeting to make these decisions, you know good and well it could.

Certainly, Facebook can claim no billing was affected, which is technically true. But brands could claim they wouldn’t have invested as much had they had accurate metrics. That’s probably true, too, at least in aggregate. But nothing will come of this other than Facebook having a little egg on its face.

The good that has emerged from the network’s mistake is potentially big for brands, however. Advertising industry influencers are calling Facebook to the table for standardization and transparency. Bob Liodice, president of the Association of National Advertisers, offered a position on the organization’s blog, saying:

“… Facebook has not yet achieved the level of measurement transparency that marketers need and require. Specifically, Facebook metrics are not accredited by the Media Rating Council (MRC); accordingly an audit of Facebook metrics has not been completed. With more than $6 billion of marketers’ media being directed to Facebook, we believe that it is time for them — and other such major media players — to be audited and accredited.”

What?! You mean advertisers expect Facebook to put on its big boy pants and act like a real business?

Should it happen? Yes. Will it? I’m betting all of Mark Zuckerberg’s billions he doesn’t give two shits about the ANA’s or anyone else’s opinion on the matter. Don’t hold your breath.

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