The Problem with Digital is Transparent 

When a tech giant like Facebook drops the bomb that it’s been inflating the average time people spend watching video ads on the site – by a whopping 60 to 80 per cent for over two years – you’d think there would be a little more outrage from advertisers.

Instead, what we heard at Advertising Week in New York last week was more of a communal “meh.” So why the muted response? Why does it seem like Facebook has been given a pass by the advertising community – especially when Facebook didn’t fully address the issue until it was outed by the Wall Street Journal? To us, it’s a serious head-scratcher.

It isn’t news to anyone that the so-called traditional media – TV especially – lives and dies by transparency and third-party measurement (Canada’s Numeris is world-class) while powerful digital players are allowed to self-report using notoriously secretive methods.

And there’s the rub.

Mark Ritson, the famed marketing consultant, weighed in on the issue by saying that “Facebook’s erroneous video metrics show no one has a clue about digital.” He even described the digital world as an “ecosystem in which two players dominate and measurements look increasingly meaningless.”

Lyle Schwartz, Managing Partner at Group M, went even further when he acknowledged that “for the longest time we gave digital a free ride.”

So how do we put the brakes on the status quo? Ron Amram, VP of Media for Heineken (U.S.), talking to the Wall Street Journal suggested that “the walled garden needs to disappear and they [digital media] need to be treated like other vendors with a level playing field.”

Those walled gardens – the internal sources of unverified data being churned out by the digital giants themselves – can lead to biased and misleading stats. For example: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, repeated again last week her assertion that “we have a Super Bowl every day,” but what does this mean? And how was it calculated?

We’re not sure – and we haven’t been able to replicate the assertion. By our calculations, it would take Facebook two full days to match the TV time spent with the Super Bowl in Canada – and that’s only if you include total time on Facebook, not just video time on the site. In any case, it’s an apples-to-palm trees comparison: The Super Bowl is a compelling, communal television event that just can’t be reproduced on digital.

Here’s where we net out: We know the power of a strong TV-and-digital media plan, but not all video is created equal, and not all metrics are meaningful. The Association of National Advertisers in the U.S. agrees:  by the end of Advertising Week it had asked for an audit of the social platform’s metrics, stating that “Facebook has not yet achieved the level of measurement transparency that marketers need and require.”

At the end of the day, marketers should all be doing as Steve Hasker, Nielsen COO, suggests: “Interrogate the claim [and] interrogate the data, no matter where it comes from.”

Catherine MacLeod, President, thinktv