Can We Trust Ad Data from Any Platform?

Jun 21, 2017

Article ImageMarketers are often dubious about the accuracy of advertising metrics when they put their trust in a major digital ad platform like Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter. They want to be sure, of course, that they’re being billed for the right clicks, ad impressions are correctly tallied, and calculation methods are verified by third parties.

Facebook, however, has been sowing further seeds of doubt among marketers with its recent slew of digital ad-related embarrassments. Last August, the social media giant fessed up that, for two years, it overestimated math pertaining to the average time users devote to viewing videos via its platform. Late last year, Facebook revealed that the time users spent on Instant Articles had been over-reported for longer than a year. And most recently, the company had to refund money to marketers after it learned of a data glitch that miscounted some clicks on video carousel ads as link clicks. The latter marks the fifth time in the past nine months that Facebook has admitted to an oops in the way it reports metrics.

The good news is that Facebook, Twitter, Google and other platforms are increasingly collaborating with third-party measurement players such as Moat and Integral Ad Science (which recently announced that it would provide expanded measurement and reporting of digital ad metrics for Facebook and Instagram). The bad news is that the walled gardens of Google and Facebook—which are positioned to command over 60% of the $83 billion digital ad market in America this year—still aren’t as transparent in their analytics and data as many advertisers want. This dissatisfaction has even prompted top-spender Procter & Gamble to curb digital ad dollars if the platforms don’t produce more verifiable metrics.

All of which begs the question for marketers: should your digital ad platform’s analytics be trusted as gospel?

Probably not, suggests Tim Bourgeois, managing director for East Coast Catalyst. “Advertisers need to build their own audiences, and they shouldn’t trust data absolutely from any external provider,” he says. “Digital advertising is a gangly teenager going through growing pains and is years away from becoming a truly efficient medium. Digital platforms are over-selling their ease of use, and advertisers are often lazy and don’t employ basic ‘trust-but-verify’ policies.”

Jason Beckerman, CEO/co-founder of Unified, agrees that marketers need to do their due diligence.

“There needs to be some sort of third-party verification,” says Beckerman. “Facebook is policing itself and proactively making improvements to measurement, which is more than most other digital ad players do. But even if Facebook is a trustworthy organization, auditing is important.”

Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, says that if Facebook and Google want to capture brand advertising and be more than data targeting companies, they’ll have to play by the rules of accurate metrics. “Facebook willfully avoided playing by industry-wide rules for years. It has fought tooth and nail to avoid being measured based on the Media Rating Council’s (MRC) minimum viewability standard of 1 second and 50% of an ad that the rest of the industry is measured by,” says Kint. “In a world where only a few parties dominate the business, some advertisers may allow them to have a hall pass on being measured, but it appears that time may be ending.”

Meantime, expect to see more problems like bugs, glitches, overcharging and ad fraud plaguing the big platforms and ad supply chains, say the experts. “Five to 50% of all online advertising suffers from these issues,” says Bourgeois. “But they are mostly avoidable through active monitoring and management. Advertisers needs to educate themselves, cultivate their own audiences, and not take sales pitches at face value.”

Additionally, insist on third-party verification and auditing of impression logs, recommends Beckerman. “Demand accountability from third parties and intermediaries, and know where your advertising and money is flowing,” Kint adds. “Remember that it’s dangerous not to have accountability from an MRC-accredited vendor.”

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