Facebook got caught lying to advertisers again.

Adland: 

It wasn't so long ago we wrote that Digital Paid Media is a fraud. In Heineken's case, they discovered only 20% of their ad impressions were seen by actual humans. The majority of views were generated by software. Those lucky humans who click on banner ads have been subject to malware. On multiple sites. Like the Economist and Forbes linked in the previous sentence. But also TMZ. Add to that ransomware and the very sites you're spending hundreds of thousands or millions to advertise on, are themselves vulnerable.
The question I hope you've been asking for years is this: Is it really worth it? Sure, some person in your digital department will swear up and down how effective it is "because we're putting the ads were people are." And someone on the client side will pull out some graph desperately trying to convince everyone"while competitors only register 2% click through rate, we are averaging 7% which is astounding, especially in the mobile space," they aren't only wrong. They are smoking crack. Since advertising day one, our job has been to capture the disinterested person's attention. If simply putting ads where people are really worked, wouldn't we see way more bathroom ads like this one or this one?

With this in mind it should hopefully come as no surprise that for two years Facebook overestimated the average time viewers spent watching your ads. In its oh-so-helpful Advertiser Help Center, Facebook posted an FYI about this in an effort to be "transparent." Basically, they overinflated the average time viewers spent watching ads, as they were only counting ads that had been viewed for more than three seconds. But they were totes going to get on that.

According to the Wall Street Journal: "Some ad agency executives who were also informed by Facebook about the change started digging deeper, prompting Facebook to give them a more detailed account, one of the people familiar with the situation said. Ad buying agency Publicis Media was told by Facebook that the earlier counting method likely overestimated average time spent watching videos by between 60% and 80%."

Facebook was forced to come even cleaner about it. In a post today, David Fisher, VP of Business and Marketing Partnerships posted this mea culpa.

Many of you may have seen the reports about our video metric miscalculation – I want to provide further clarity on the issue.
About a month ago, we found an error in the way we calculate one of the video metrics on our dashboard – average duration of video viewed. The metric should have reflected the total time spent watching a video divided by the total number of people who played the video. But it didn’t – it reflected the total time spent watching a video divided by only the number of “views” of a video (that is, when the video was watched for three or more seconds). And so the miscalculation overstated this metric. While this is only one of the many metrics marketers look at, we take any mistake seriously.
As soon as we discovered the discrepancy, we fixed it. We informed our partners and made sure to put a notice in the product itself so that anyone who went into their dashboard could understand our error. We have also reviewed our other video metrics on the dashboard and have found that this has no impact on video numbers we have shared in the past, such as time spent watching video or the number of video views. We want our clients to know that this miscalculation has not and will not going forward have an impact on billing or how media mix models value their Facebook video investments.
But this isn’t just about this error. This is about how seriously we take our partners’ commitment to our platform, and how their investments with us wholly depend on the transparency with which we communicate. We know we can’t have true partnerships with our clients unless we are upfront and honest with them, including when we make mistakes like this one. Our clients’ trust and belief in our metrics is essential to us and we have to earn that trust. That is why we also give marketers choice by offering third-party video verification options with companies like Nielsen and Moat. We want marketers to measure video with us in the way they feel most comfortable.
We sincerely apologize for the issues this has created for our clients. This error should not stand in the way of our ultimate goal, which is to do what’s in the best interest of our partners and their business growth. We can only be successful if we’re providing clients with the tools to drive their business forward, and we’ll continue to deliver on that promise.

So they recently discovered an error that's been going on for two years and they're real sorry about it. Sure they are.

What's amazing to me isn't just how smarmy Facebook is by thinking if they renaming their metric it will be a whole new thing, but also how brazen they are in refusing to accept any sort of culpability, distancing itself from any sort of responsibility by directing advertisers to third party verification companies like Nielsen and Moat.
The Wall Street Journal mentions Publicis sending out an irate note about this, with a line that reads: “This once again illuminates the absolute need to have 3rd party tagging and verification on Facebook’s platform. Two years of reporting inflated performance numbers is unacceptable.”
Unacceptable, yes. But you are buying the lie that Facebook, like Google, is too big to police and manage itself, and therefore must be held accountable by someone else. Someone else you have to pay in order to make the big machine work. In other words, you haven't learned anything.
But with Facebook replacing "Average Duration of Video Viewed," which only counted views of three seconds or longer with "Average watch time," to count videos watched of any duration, they could potentially be sweating bullets now. For how many advertisers and media companies will sink millions into Facebook once they realize average watch time of their ads is just long enough to hit skip or pause? I guess advertising and media buying companies will get really upset when that happens another two years from now. But that's long enough for Facebook to bilk some more cash out of the gullible. And long enough to rename its metric again.

Leave a comment

about the author

kidsleepy 17 year copywriter, now CD, who has worked in many cities including Pittsburgh, New York, Atlanta, Montreal and currently Los Angeles. I snark because I care. I ain't complainin' I'm just tellin' it like it is.