Industry POV

Will Facebook's recent metric errors lead to clients rethinking third party audits? - Vivek Bhargava


As more and more money gets diverted to digital mediums, especially the likes of Facebook and Google, the pressure on these platforms to live up to expectations is also increasing. In recent months, Facebook has admitted to a number of errors in its metrics, which it now says it is rectifying. In fact, it has reported four different errors in as many months since September.

To be fair, it does not seem a lot of these errors are as serious as was earlier thought. For example, back in September the company said that it had found and rectified an error in the way it calculated average duration of video viewed, something that was going on for a number of years. However, according to some digital experts we spoke with, the error was probably not as big as earlier thought.

"They (Facebook) haven't misrepresented what we bought. So, you paid for impressions optimised for views. Both views and impressions were reported perfectly. It was only when they looked at viewed percentage that the problem cropped up," Gautamm Mehra, Chief Data Officer at Dentsu Aegis Network, had told us at that time.

However, the fact that these errors are cropping up and regularly has not gone unnoticed. Last year, Ad Age, in an article, claimed that some brands like Kellogg are pulling out of deals with big publishers, including YouTube and Facebook over viewability issues. These brands want to bring in neutral companies to check whether their ads are actually being seen, something the latter are not too keen on, said the report.

Since then we have seen a number of companies and agencies looking to bring in third party agencies to monitor where their ad spends are actually going.

Talking about the latest incident, Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO of Mirum India agreed as he said, “The discussions (between clients and Facebook) will become more detailed. When it happens periodically it does raise some doubts. Usually on other platforms on digital you can have third party audits but with Facebook being closed you have to take their word for it. In time I suppose they will need to be more open. I think the intent is to get to the right reporting metric. Despite the dominance of Facebook, they will need to be transparent.” However, he did note that advertisers still see value for their money on Facebook. “There is no viable alternative to what Facebook does,” he said.

On similar lines, Vivek Bhargava, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Performance Group, pointed out that despite the recent errors, digital still provides the most accurate measurement as compared to any other advertising medium. He also noted that Facebook has been very transparent about the various errors, which has helped to assuage some doubts. When asked whether such incidents would push clients to force the likes of Facebook to allow more access to third party audits, he admitted that it was a possibility though he also added, “The fact is that clients are too dependent on these platforms. If tomorrow, say a Google, does not bow down to pressure, what are you going to do?”

Which brings us back to the question, do clients need to insist on third party verification? So far, Indian agencies and clients seem to have been content to take the word of the two big publishers at least, though this might be changing.

Milind Pathak, COO of Madhouse India said, “We have been big proponents of third party tracking. It is in the best interests of brands to do third party tracking, ad serving, viewability tests, etc.” Without commenting on Facebook directly, Pathak said that regular incidents of errors in reporting and metrics would only lead to diminishing of client trust, not only on the platform but also the ecosystem, which is not healthy.

When asked about whether Indian clients are opening up to third party monitoring of their digital spends, he said, “We are seeing most of our evolved clients already looking at third party tracking. It is a step by step process. In 2013-14, no one had heard about ad tracking but now a lot of people are doing it. From here people will move to ad serving and so on. People are in the learning and evolving phase. Most of the progressive clients want to learn; they want to understand how things work.”