How Brands and Agencies Are Fighting Back Against Facebook and Google’s Measurement Snafus

Diving deep into the duopoly

Some are storming the gates of the walled garden approach to measurement. Illustration: eBoy
Headshot of Lauren Johnson

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, a $1 billion U.S. advertiser, is fed up with playing by Facebook’s rules. As a result, the carmaker concocted its own set of measurement standards that combine video views with a layer of additional stats, prodded by what it sees as a lack of comparability for Facebook to other media it buys.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that we need to standardize our own view of the metrics,” explains Amy McNeil, head of digital media at FCA U.S. “We are collaborating with [our media agency] Universal McCann on the addition of time spent as an engagement qualifier, along with delivering on demo and in-view.” Such work piecing together custom metrics puts “a value on that platform, their reach, how successful we were in video completion,” she adds. “When we can prove out that it looks like any other buy that we’re doing, that’s when we increase our [budget]. Until we can get that third-party validation, our spend levels are what they are.”

That can’t be good news for Facebook—or Google, which is facing similar pushback from marketers. Here’s why FCA and other marketers are so frustrated with this veritable duopoly. The two behemoths are poised to gobble up a staggering 60.4 percent—or roughly $50.1 billion—of this year’s $83 billion U.S. digital advertising market, with the remaining 39.6 percent split among all other publishers and platforms, per eMarketer. Moreover, a report from trade group Digital Content Next claims that 90 percent of the growth in digital spend between 2015 and 2016 went to one or the other.

Despite their collective clout—or maybe because of—Facebook and Google’s walled gardens limit the amount of data and analytics that advertisers can access to track the performance of their campaigns, specifically when it comes to comparing ads to other digital platforms. More and more brands are taking a harder stance on the walled gardens that Facebook and Google have built around their metrics. Procter & Gamble—the U.S.’ largest advertiser at $2.4 billion last year, per Kantar—has pledged to cut spend if the platforms don’t clean up their measurement act by the end of this year. “Adopt the minimum [Media Rating Council’s] standard and stop peddling your own version—it only creates confusion,” P&G CMO Marc Pritchard recently told attendees at the 4A’s Transformation Conference in Los Angeles, taking a direct jab at Facebook and Google. “Then we can focus on the hard work of analyzing effectiveness and making investment choices,” he said, according to a transcript of his presentation.

The root of the problem

As the two giants of digital, advertisers have long leaned on Facebook and Google to make sense of their campaign data and relay back what’s working and what isn’t. But as more money moves from traditional media to digital, a growing number of marketers are beginning to question what exactly that data entails and are pushing for unified metrics that align with all other digital media.

“They are a duopoly that has the market power to act like a monopolist,” notes Mike Mothner, CEO of Wpromote. “The fact is, advertising on these platforms is so important that it overcomes any shortcoming or lack of comfort that we have.”

When asked if Facebook—which attracted nearly $27 billion in ad revenue in 2016—takes measurement seriously, conventional wisdom among digital agency execs is that CEO Mark Zuckerberg would rather concentrate on getting drones in the sky to distribute Facebook’s signal globally than focus on nitty-gritty measurement issues closer to the ground.

And when it comes to Google, some agency execs would rather avoid that fight, given the Mountain View, Calif.-based digital giant’s control over search advertising and the troves of data that underpin its eMarketer-estimated $28.5 billion U.S. search business this year.

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This story first appeared in the April 17, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.