N-Play creates Facebook ad tool for real estate agents but needs more transparency

N-Play, a company that builds agent-centric real estate applications, this week launched a new tool for agents to easily create Facebook ads for their listings.

Agents can create free profiles in the Real Estate Agent Directory and then use N-Play’s platform to automatically generate ads for listings they’ve added to their profiles. The platform simplifies the ad creation process but lacks transparency in pricing and targeting.

Agents can create up to six ads per campaign for a flat fee as low as $2 per day. Images and body copy are selected from their profile and from listings that agents have already created, though they can edit them if they wish.

N-Play gives agents an estimated number of impressions that their budget will reach, however, it does not seem to give agents any guarantees on the minimum number of impressions they’ll receive for their daily budget, nor does it make any effort to be transparent about how much of a cut of a user’s ad spend it takes. Agents can get a report of the views, clicks, clickthrough rate and estimated reach of a campaign, but they cannot see how the actual CPM or CPC compares with what N-Play charges.

The company declined to share its pricing model with us, claiming, “Our industry is highly competitive and we are not in position to reveal our business model to our competitors.”

However, among the broader industry of Facebook advertising, it is fairly standard practice for vendors and advertisers to agree on a pricing structure in advance, and transparency is required of Preferred Marketing Developers. Facebook guidelines state:

You must disclose to end-advertisers the actual amount that you spent on Facebook advertising based on the auction pricing, including the actual Facebook metrics (e.g. CPC, CPM rate) and the amount you charged as fees. We reserve the right to request documentation from you to ensure your compliance with this policy.

N-Play is not in the PMD program, but it was granted Ads API access by Facebook.

N-Play says it uses a proprietary algorithm to target ads to users who are likely to be in the market for a home in the neighborhood being listed, which simplifies the creation process and takes the onus off agents. Age, zip code and interests factor into this, but N-Play doesn’t reveal any more details about how it targets ads. This would be fine, but N-Play does not provide agents with a report about who ended up seeing their ads. Using Facebook’s own tool, any advertiser would be able to get a breakdown of responder demographics, but with N-Play there’s no way to ensure that ads were seen by a relevant audience.

[Update 11/21 – An earlier version of this story pointed out that N-Play’s ad creation tool was providing impression estimates that would have resulted in less than $0.01 CPM. N-Play CEO Mark Bloomfield let us know that there was a mistake in the system that miscalculated the estimated impressions by a factor of 100. The issue has been resolved and an updated screenshot is now provided below.]

There is definitely need for vertical-specific platforms built on the Facebook Ads API. The social network’s own tools include language and concepts that might be foreign to people outside the advertising industry. ReverbNation, for example, created a platform frames Facebook advertising in a way that is tailored for musicians, though we similarly called for more transparency in that tool when it launched.

Companies that build solutions for less-experienced marketers can provide a lot of value by simplifying the Facebook ad process through automation and personalization by industry, but Facebook should ensure that these companies are being open with their customers.

N-Play points out that this is the first release of its ad product and tells us that it will provide more features and additional reporting metrics in the next phase.