Facebook has pivoted its ad server Atlas (which it bought for hundreds of millions from Microsoft in 2013) to be used as a measurement tool, a development which emerged amid much controversy for the social network. In the first of a two-part analysis, The Drum probed some of the industry’s largest media spenders to gauge their reaction.
Facebook’s rise has not been without its bumps
Facebook’s meteoric propulsion to the very top tier of the media landscape has been fuelled by its reach, frequency of usage by over a billion people, and more crucially the richness of its audience data.
So much so, that Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the largest media investment unit in the world forecasts that before 2018 Facebook will become the second-largest media owner in the world by media spend (overtaking ‘legacy’ media outfits, but still trailing some way behind Google).
Although, speaking recently with The Drum he did press the need for such outfits to provide more transparent measurement if they are to continue to justify such levels of spend. Speaking about Facebook in particular, he said: “We’re hearing from the Proctor & Gambles, and Unilevers – from Marc Pritchard and Keith Weed – about the inadequacies of measurement, such as Facebook’s three-second view, with 50 per cent of the time the sound is turned off, equating to a 15, or 30 second view,” he explains.
This issue was further exacerbated when the following week the scale of this inaccuracy was reported in the popular press, with some of the biggest spending brands in the advertising industry calling for enhanced third-party oversight of Facebook’s measurement performance.
Why was Atlas retired as a standalone ad server?
This also coincided with Facebook shifting its ad server Atlas – which launched in earnest during 2015, but is widely understood to have failed to meet initial expectations in terms of uptake – into its marketing sciences marketing services vision, which will be headed up by measurement vice president of Brad Smallwood.
Furthermore, a recent call from Association of National Advertisers (ANA) chief, Bob Liodice, for third-party auditing of Facebook’s measurement processes, prompted the below public statement from Facebook.
“We are currently in dialogue with the ANA about how we can work more closely together. Trust and transparency with our partners are paramount to the operation of our company,” it read.
“Our focus has always been on driving business results for our clients, and we strongly believe in third-party verification. We have a history of working with industry leaders including Nielsen, Moat, and comScore - and we continue to explore more partnerships.”
Facebook’s third-party outreach
Of course, in the week ahead of the most recent controversy, Facebook announced further tie-ups with MarketShare; Nielsen; Oracle and Visual IQ, in a bid to show advertisers that it is not ‘grading its own homework’, according to Facebook’s Smallwood. In particular, the latest developments aimed at helping advertisers calculate how spend on the social network helps drive in-store sales, and ultimately how spend on Facebook should sit within their media mix modelling.
The Drum consulted a number of the UK’s leading media agency staff for their opinion on the latest product launches*, with all parties consulted welcoming the overtures. Although, not all were necessarily convinced that Facebook will go 100 per cent of the way to meeting the requirements articulated by ANA chief Bob Liodice.
Facebook can no longer prescribe the measure of success
Danny Hopwood, Publicis Media, vice president solutions and platforms operations, EMEA, said the recent changes in Facebook’s public posturing represent a massive shift from the initial stance it took upon first entering the market with the Atlas proposition.
“Facebook is learning iteratively that it can’t prescribe the success metric, but it’s likely to still be a controlled environment,” he said. “They’re definitely more open to third-party measurement, but I still feel that they’re doing it to their own benefit, which is going to be pretty obvious.”
Although, he did on to voice some doubt as to whether they represented 100 per cent transparency in terms of cross-measurement with advertising performance on other ecosystems.
“I doubt you’ll be able to take this data and match it to see it across Google and Facebook … For instance, I doubt you’ll be able to look through the lens of Nielsen Catalina at both Facebook and Google. I think you’ll only be able to look at Facebook … you unlikely to be able to compare them both.”
A step in the right direction
Meanwhile, Robin O’Neill, managing director of digital trading, at WPP’s GroupM UK said the opening up to third-party measurement was a “step in the right direction”. Although “the mechanics of these changes and benefits to clients are yet to be seen”, and urged Facebook to continue down this path.
He went on to say: “At GroupM, we feel strongly that independent verification of delivery and analysis of clients’ advertising performance should be measured at the broadest possible level, and not in silos as per the model adopted by Facebook. The value for us and our clients would be delivered when Facebook builds on these new developments to allow us to use their data to assess the results of client spending based on their entire digital marketing delivery.”
‘Necessary’ changes for growth
Felicity Long, Carat, head of digital, the recent ranch of product launches made it clear that Facebook is listening to both agencies and marketers, and this was necessary if it wanted ad revenue to continue to grow.
"Growing share will mean taking revenue from other robustly measured channels and to be able to do that agencies and marketers need to be very confident, budgets are not not infinite and many marketers are feeling the impact from the disruption the incoming digital economy is creating,” she added.
"As with all measurement tools though the devil is in the detail so I am looking forward to getting under to hood of the new products and into the detail."
*These interviews were conducted in advance of the over-measurement miscalculations being reported