What Ad Buyers Really Think About Google, Facebook, Twitter and Everything in Between

A candid discussion with 7 insiders

The major digital media platforms—full of big gains, big hype and often a lack of transparency—have made the advertising universe a complicated, fragmented place. And with eMarketer predicting digital ad spending to swell to $77.4 billion in 2017, up 16 percent versus this year, it's a domain that's poised to evolve even more rapidly. We asked seven ad buyers—from three consumer brands and three agencies, plus one independent—to talk about what's right and what's wrong with a dozen platforms with which they do business.

"The definitions are different for YouTube, for Facebook, for Twitter, and that is really not user-friendly for any agency or for any brand to work across all of them for proper reporting," says Liya Sharif, Qualcomm's senior director, marketing. Adds Bruce Kiernan, practice lead for performance marketing at MEC North America: "I would say from an agency perspective, we are frustrated. Facebook and Google are not going to give up their data and open up the gates to their walled gardens anytime soon."

Meanwhile, others are more positive about the process. "[Facebook] allows you to basically upload any type of custom audience and not just create a look-alike audience, but you can scale that according to your needs and play with different sizes of audiences," notes Tim Villanueva, head of media partnerships at Fetch.

Here, these and more buyers weigh in on topics ranging from measurement and pricing to which platforms still need improvement.

Adweek: Which ad platforms or features struggle to meet your needs?

Tim Villanueva, Fetch: Twitter's dashboard in general, [in terms of] just being able to manage the operations as well as setting up, executing and optimizing a campaign, is just a little more cumbersome than other platforms. Managing tweets at that level, finding results and quickly making decisions. You're having to extract [those things] and do a lot of data manipulation to really make the decisions you need to make.

Kevin Scholl, director, digital marketing, Red Roof Inn: I'll also pile on the Twitter cloud. Honestly, Twitter is one of these tools that we're talking about actually spending less money with. We started strong on Twitter, but as we've gotten with using other tools and really finding who we are with our campaigns, Twitter for us has become less of an investment.

Lizzy Moore, independent digital media buyer: Spotify has some limitations on how well you can target and how many creative versions or rotations you can have compared to some other options.

Villanueva: I'd say Spotify is kind of focused on brand advertisers today, and, as a result, they kind of priced out more performance-oriented advertisers. [At the same time], I understand they want to preserve a part of their environment for more premium brands.

Jon Guljord, senior director, mobile marketing, Expedia: I think a fair push for Facebook would be to provide more … let's call it impression-level data. And who you're actually reaching from an impression basis and even audiences without having to necessarily pay for that click from the audience. I think it would really help all performance marketers if they could just be a bit more transparent with some of the impression-level data.

Bruce Kiernan, MEC: I completely agree. And that also applies to Google. With Facebook having access to as many users and as much rich data as they do, I think a huge gap is allowing marketers to actually see what goes on within their paid media activity and to then add those insights into a more holistic kind of strategic view—how this campaign is performing and what part Facebook plays in my bigger picture.

Amy Manus, senior director of media, Razorfish: Facebook is newer, shinier and getting better results for many clients in regards to efficiency and engagement. However, from a platform standpoint, they are very different in terms of how video fits into the overall user experience. It is not apples to apples; and for brands it should not be either.

Moore: A lot of clients see AOL as what the internet used to be and not where they want to be now. I think they do have a lot of capabilities as far as their targeting and what you can do with creative and things like that. But I think the perception isn't as positive for clients because they think of it as the "You've Got Mail" platform.

Guljord: Google's universal app campaign [UAC] product, to get fairly specific, rolls up several products into one, and it is a black box. Getting more transparency would be super helpful. I'd speculate that Google feels like UAC fills a very particular role across their ad products and this one for a particular audience—probably app developers—and it makes it very easy to get things going. But for a sophisticated advertiser, or as Expedia, or even folks who aren't as sophisticated as Expedia, I would imagine advertisers would really benefit from more transparency and more levers with the UAC product.

Villanueva: I would say just releasing Google Play ads [for app-install campaigns] was a huge deal for them, [especially since] Apple's App [Store search] ads are coming out in September. Though right now, you can only run Google Play ads if you're running a Google search program, and it's just an extension of that. That's something I would like to see from Google, just to be able to have more tools to plan for the App Store, breaking that out and managing a separate strategy.

What about YouTube?