Gabey Goh
Sep 28, 2016

Facebook's video screwup: A tipping point for brands to be more discerning?

Facebook’s video miscalculation underscores the need for independent verification, a focus on view quality and platform diversification, experts say.

Facebook's video screwup: A tipping point for brands to be more discerning?

ASIA PACIFIC - Facebook’s admission that it had overestimated average viewing time for video ads on its platform—for two years—has once again underscored the need for brands to more carefully evaluate their video strategies and measurement approaches.

Multiple industry commentators contacted by Campaign Asia-Pacific noted that the lack of transparency and third-party verification of metrics provided by ‘walled gardens’ has long been a point of contention.

Ranji David, marketing director at the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), said measurement should not only be consistent (standardised by market and platform) and robust (it must stand up to industry guidance) but also independently verified by a third party in addition to media owners.

Trust issues

“Underpinning all of this is trust—and that’s absolutely critical because without reliable data brands simply can’t make well-informed decisions and that doubt will inevitably impact investment confidence,” she added.

Rene Menezes, co-founder at CtrlShift, said he was curious why the admission took as long as it did, as Facebook has historically shown that it does genuinely want to provide the best possible metrics for its clients.

“Remember when they culled all the dodgy likes from corporate pages?" Menezes asked. "It wasn’t easy to do and was definitely not a popular move to many, but they went ahead and did it anyway. They must, however, deal with these issues with far greater urgency. Not taking the bull by the horns just compounds the trust issues, especially relating to these ‘closed’ platforms.”

After Facebook’s admission went public, the company has been on what has been dubbed an ‘apology tour’.

“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,” said David Fischer, vice president of business and marketing partnerships, in a Facebook post. “While this is only one of the many metrics marketers look at, we take any mistake seriously.”

During Advertising Week, currently being held in New York, Facebook marketing chief Carolyn Everson stated that clients and agencies were told of the miscalculation when it was discovered last month, but that it should have come clean sooner.

Menezes noted that the larger any single media platform becomes, the greater its willingness must be to be open so that advertisers can get reassurance that they are spending their money efficiently and effectively.

“Even some of the smallest companies out there allow third-party tracking," Menezes said. "I don’t see why Facebook would fight this. It helps the entire industry.”

Look at view quality, not just views

Unruly’s chief commercial officer in APAC, Phil Townend, said that it is not surprising that a lack of third-party verification can lead to misunderstandings and discrepancies.

“Hopefully this will provide a tipping point for clients to start to look beyond the view and measure video effectiveness based on meaningful metrics,” he added. “For too long we've seen brands fixate on vanity metrics such as view counters rather than looking at the actual quality of the view and how it is performing against brand metrics and ROI.”

According to a report by MarketingLand, more than 20 percent of Facebook’s 4 million advertisers have created a video ad in the past month. However, the bulk of video ad buys don’t come from its largest pool of advertisers, with 70 percent of those advertisers coming from outside of the US.

Facebook is adding the most advertisers in Southeast Asia, where due to still-developing communications infrastructure, many are most likely better served by the company’s slideshow ads or text-and-photo placements, rather than video spots.

While a few clients have reached out to CtrlShift about the matter, Menezes doubts Facebook’s miscalculations will have a significant impact in Asia, having cemented its place in media plans as a staple of almost any campaign.

He added that the only headwind will be that marketers and agencies will now have to develop new benchmarks for this metric of their video campaign performance as the expected discrepancy between previous numbers and new numbers are estimated to be between 60 to 80 percent.

Explore other avenues

“In many of the markets we operate in, when a client says ‘video’, what they're actually thinking is ‘YouTube and Facebook’," Menezes said. "So this is definitely a good time for clients to re-evaluate the composition of their video spends and give some of the other video avenues which they have brushed aside, such as programmatic, a try.”

Townend echoed Menezes’ point about diversification of platforms, noting that this is an opportunity for brands to consider reaching audiences across a much broader range of premium environments, where third-party tracking is standard and audiences are deeply engaged. Especially when up to 50 percent of views in some key APAC markets take place across the open web (sites outside of YouTube and Facebook).

He also pointed out that low cost per reach is also a bit of a misleading metric because if a view is counted at three seconds and the brand isn't revealed until much later, that's cost per wastage. 

“Why spend all that money on production if a user only sees a fragment of the video ad?” he asked. “Transparency is a critical issue for our industry, and we expect more brands will be requesting third-party validation or looking to other vendors who can offer independent, objective auditing of video campaigns.”

Menezes noted that average viewing time is only one metric out of many that are used to measure video campaign performance.

No 'us against them'

“Let’s not get too caught up on this, as savvy marketers should be doing their part to determine performance using a combination of this and the many other metrics available,” he added.

WFA’s David reported that to address the issue of Media Quality and Measurement, the WFA is currently working to develop global guidance on the topic.

In addition to the WFA Ad Fraud compendium launched in June this year, the organisation also conducted a half-day session on the topic in KL last month with a repeat session planned for the end of October in Singapore.

“It’s not a ‘them-against-us’ scenario,” she said. “Brands will need to empower themselves to understand the challenges they are facing and must work seamlessly with partners and publishers to address these issues.”

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