Facebook’s Latest Blunder and the Elephant in the Living Room

Maybe the problem is not with ad measurement, it is with the ad format itself.

The Wall Street Journal reported last Friday that Facebook has been inflating a key performance metric relating to its mobile video ads.

With all the chatter about how many seconds (or milliseconds) consumers actually watch Facebook video ads, aren’t the experts missing the point? The point is: Regardless of what Facebook reports, these interruptive ad formats simply don’t work. Maybe the problem is not with ad measurement, it is with the ad format itself.

In order to perform, mobile ads must be welcomed by consumers and highly relevant. In order to track performance, actual campaign results must be measurable. That’s the new bar for mobile marketing, and that’s what shared media is all about.

So what exactly is shared media, and why is it so successful? Popularized by Snapchat’s branded filters, shared media ads are co-created by the brand advertiser and the consumer. Then the branded video is shared by that consumer to his or her friends and contacts via existing social media and messaging channels.

Shared Media is far more viewed and trusted than any conventional advertising message can ever be because a company’s loyal followers have a lot more pull with their own friends than ad agencies do (no offense). Here is an example of a Cheerios shared media campaign.

Vivoom Viewer Experience from Vivoom on Vimeo.

Based on the news reported last Friday, Facebook may be cheating brands out of literally billions of dollars. In its interesting use of math, Facebook was only counting ads that were viewed for at least three seconds in its average viewing time, which was inflating this important metric by between 60 percent and 80 percent.

With Facebook video ads already on mute by default and auto-playing in users’ feeds as they scroll right past them, brands already had limited opportunity to get their message across using this medium. But this news is wakening brands up to the fact that performance may have been much worse than reported.

Stepping back, however, if the return on investment of an ad campaign is based on the number of people who “viewed” a video ad on mute for three seconds, then we have a bigger problem beyond video ad viewership tracking.

At the end of the day, advertisers are seeking conversions, not micro-blips of a consumer’s attention.

We are seeing some impressive metrics with shared media video campaigns:

  • Videos are always viewed full-screen and with audio.
  • Videos are viewed to completion more than 65 percent of the time.
  • Ads are delivered with 0 percent wastage from ad blocking and bot fraud.
  • Ads are averaging click-through rates of 1 percent to 3 percent on the embedded calls to action at the end of the videos.

Facebook had been on a roll. In the fourth quarter of 2015 alone, the company raked in $5.6 billion in ad revenue, 80 percent of which was from mobile.

The main benefits of advertising on Facebook are its massive reach of more than 1.5 billion monthly active users and its unprecedented ability to micro-target its audience using the wealth of information it has collected on users. So it’s no surprise that brands have been turning to the social media giant to try to get their messages out.

However, with the shift to mobile-first, brands must be aware that users interact much differently with content on mobile than on other screens, and this has created new challenges. Traditional ad formats like those that Facebook offers just aren’t performing.

Facebook video ads are interruptive and largely unwanted by consumers, as ad blocking usage has made apparent.

Facebook video ads are on mute by default and, thus, played with sound less than 20 percent of the time. The now ubiquitous subtitles are a symptom of the problem, not the solution.

Facebook video ads are auto-played in the user’s feed and often overlooked as the user is focused on posts from their actual friends.

So, regardless of whatever fuzzy math Facebook might use to calculate its metrics, there are still big challenges with its ad formats.

This is why shared media has entered the arena as a new way to win on mobile. In an era where every consumer can be a publisher anywhere they go, brands have a huge opportunity to tap into this power, joining conversations between friends, rather than interrupting them.

Katherine Hays is the founder and CEO of user-generated marketing platform Vivoom.

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Image of elephant in living room courtesy of Shutterstock.