Facebook errors prompt rethink

Australian advertisers would do well to look at their US peers this morning over a Vegemite and spinach breakfast and muscle up – two thirds of US brand owners say they are now questioning Facebook’s ongoing misreporting of audience numbers.

According to trade title Advertising Age, a study of US marketers shows confidence in digital and social platforms is “significantly below 50 per cent” and 40 per cent now say they plan to conduct independent audits of Facebook’s audience and advertising delivery.

Between Facebook’s ongoing misreporting of audience metrics, the widespread affliction of online advertising and bot fraud across the entire digital advertising food chain and serious transparency challenges in the advertising technology sector, half of brand owners in the Advertiser Perceptions study now say they won’t spend ad budgets on digital platforms they consider risky.

Saying one thing and doing it are not always a given, but Australian marketers and agencies would do well to get serious about this.

The great bait-and-switch media platform, Facebook, looks like it might finally start feeling some of the heat and scrutiny that’s dished out to most others in the media sector. It’s a positive, constructive development for everyone.

It’s been astounding to watch all but a brave few acquiesce so easily to Facebook’s ever-shifting and fuzzy commercial demands of media owners and its messed-up self-reporting of audience and video data.

Too many across the global industry — and more so in Australia — are too scared, besotted or blinkered to publicly challenge any of the tech titans.

They’ll happily put the boot into any other media sector or media company, as we saw a few weeks ago here over changes to circulation reporting from the Australian print sector. But not Facebook, Google or even their fast-rising nemesis Snapchat. It’s all far too disingenuous and, with a few years of hindsight, the lack of industry probity will prove frightfully embarrassing too many.

Australia is not alone, however, as the editorial team at The Wall Street Journal made clear in their final “Media Mix” podcast for 2016. They too expressed amazement at the timidity of US brand owners and agencies to challenge the social beast over its ongoing misreporting of audience and video measurement — a story the WSJ broke after, finally, some angry US marketers started to speak up.

“The problem with Facebook is they’ve become so powerful that marketers are afraid to speak about them,” the WSJ’s advertising editor, Suzanne Vranica, told her colleagues on the WSJ podcast a few weeks back.

“Media companies, everyone — no-one will call them out. We see this all time with people who use [Facebook] from the media side. This is not a hard issue to solve. Demand transparency. This idea everyday [that marketers] are calling for third party verification [of Facebook’s metrics] — well if you don’t like the third party verification, hold back money. Watch how quickly Wall Street forces Facebook to open up its platform when it misses it earnings. Marketers are in the drivers seat. They will stand up and call any TV network idiots in public but Facebook? No. We’ll see what happens. Maybe we’ll get some marketers who’ll finally say let’s work together.”

Indeed, that moment may be now dawning although sometimes the apathy across the industry to push for real progress is baffling. Still, Australian agencies and marketers should hoof into the spinach, fast. It’s time.

Paul McIntyre is editor-at-large at Multi Channel Network