Facebook overestimated video success: What does this mean for the landscape of digital media buying

Can you imagine a world where Aston Villa were Premier League champions last season, where Cuba topped the Gold medal tally in Rio de Janeiro and Usain Bolt actually ran the 100m in 17.16 seconds? Because that is what Facebook’s video error percentage would have done to the sports world.

With an error percentage of 60-80%, all those things mathematically could have happened. And that is precisely why Facebook’s admission that it had been overestimating average video viewer time by around 60-80% is so concerning for brands, publishers and marketers. It especially impacts media companies and marketers alike, such as Publicis – who ‘exposed’ the error – who in 2015 oversaw advertising spend of £77bn. 

For those of you haven’t seen the full story, Facebook was excluding any video views below three seconds, heavily weighing the statistics in favour of longer views, thus creating highly distorted analytics. Therefore the people that abandoned the video after less than three seconds were not being included, so the abandon rates and times were wholly inaccurate and misleading.

These analytics were the bedrock upon which many publishers, brands and sports rights-holders built their marketing campaigns. In sporting terms, it’s the biggest error since Ryan Lochte told the world he had been robbed at gunpoint.

Publicis did not hold back in their public condemnation of the social media superpower, telling the Wall Street Journal that Facebook was “coming up with new names for what they were meant to measure in the first place.”

So what does this mean for the digital media landscape?

Whilst many marketers will look at this situation and not think much of it, there are some that are likely considering alternative options for placing media budgets in ‘more transparent environment’. But when Facebook has so much of a monopoly on the market, it’s hard to move away from Facebook regardless of their slip-ups. It will have been stung by criticism and are now undoubtedly doubling their efforts to fully restore their reporting and analytical credibility. Facebook receives billions per year from the advertising industry, so it has no option but to evolve it’s offering. As the Wall Street Journal highlighted, this false data will have “impacted decisions” about how much budget to spend and will have left a sour taste in the mouth of many marketing and commercial directors.


However, one viable option is to supplement Facebook in your strategy. Such supplementation would need to deliver targeted advertising content with a robust and transparent reporting structure. While many agencies rely heavily on social media buying, we’ve expanded our media buying offering with a purpose built demand-side platform (DSP) to reach audiences over a much larger and wider landscape.

Enter programmatic. Like ‘hard Brexit’ or ‘third party ownership,’ it is a term we are all familiar with, often without knowing the specifics or the benefits it supplies.

What is programmatic advertising?

Programmatic has been a buzzword for a number of years now in the media and advertising world, yet its complexity and scientific jargon often makes it hard to fully comprehend for most marketers.

Programmatic allows you to target a particular audience with your adverts. It does this by allowing you to have multiple layers of audience segmentations and content targeting. Think of a campaign as an onion, with programmatic supplying numerous layers of targeted, tailored and creative content based upon specific criteria such as gender, interests, browsing habits, location and even time of day. You can even select what platforms and websites your adverts appear on and can retarget users via pixel tracking.

Programmatic is built around algorithms. Online adverts can be bought and sold in real time, so programmatic algorithms will be ‘bidding’ on your targeted audience and pre-identified locations to optimise your campaign. It will bid to a maximum as set by your campaign strategy, with such automation greatly enhancing process efficiencies.

Done right, the results can be 1) better targeting and insights into the behaviours of your customers 2) more cost effective CPA’s and 3) simply a more efficient process due to it not requiring people to manage.

At WePlay, we use our own data platform to ensure greater transparency and a higher quality of analysis for our clients. Knowledge of your audience is everything.

Programmatic delivers the ultimate goal of all marketing strategies – the right message, to the right person, at the right time and on the right platform. If you’re not considering or using it already, then you should be.

What lessons can we learn?

As with everything in marketing, you should never put all your eggs in to one basket. Facebook must be a core component – but not the only component of your campaign. Do not limit yourself to one platform, as it will limit the efficiency of both your spend and reach.

And, as ever, common sense is critical to ensure your strategy is flexible and continues to evolve. Reach (impressions) as a metric alone is not the sole barometer of a successful campaign. We assess a range of metrics from impressions and CPM’s to click-throughs, sentiment and shares – all of which powers our retargeting engine, for effective results through an efficient spend.

Facebook will recover full credibility and remains a crucial pillar of the digital marketing sector. But, as Mark Ritson wrote in Marketing Week: “Facebook are more than happy to demand external validation of others, the quest for transparency stops when it comes to their own operations.”

So, what it will face is renewed calls for third-party monitoring of its analytics to prevent a repeat performance.