The Controversy Over Facebook Ads

Facebook has undergone dramatic criticism lately regarding the legitimacy of its advertising program. This is a major debate, due to the large amount of advertisers who have embraced the opportunity and are spending millions on Facebook marketing and are reporting minimal returns on investment while others are seeing fantastic results.

Veritasium, a youtube channel generally dedicated to science related questions published a video claiming that an overwhelming quantity of the ‘likes’ generated by legitimate Facebook ads came from click farms located in India and Bangladesh.

The video has since gained over 3 million views and generated a wide range of criticism.

Jon Loomer responds to the video in his article Are Facebook Ads a Waste of Money? highlighting some problematic information in the video that seems to distract users from the actual situation. One issue, for example, is that pages with no substantial content (Virtual Bagel, Virtual Cat) are surely not going to be engaging; therefore, how can we assume that Facebook ads don’t engage users if the page itself is as juicy as volcanic ash? Virtual Bagel’s “Like Experiment” did not reach expectations for the US or UK market. So then, does this experiment mean that Facebook ads don’t work in the US/UK markets?

Jon Loomer says, “No.” He writes, “If you still use Facebook ads as if it’s 2012, you deserve the results you get.” It can be easy for advertisers to make Facebook the scapegoat for the ineffectiveness of poorly designed pages and inaccurate ad targeting. Loomer writes;

You no longer need to broadly target a country based on age and gender (recall that the Virtual Bagel ad targeted 112 Million people!). You can target based on the basic things like interests and even buying histories (Partner Categories.)

Racking up the ‘likes’ on a page is an out-of-date scale for how popular and engaging the page is. So instead of broadcasting to 112 Million relatively indifferent users, it seems to be exponentially more effective to target only 10% of those users who are actually interested in similar products or pages.

Just looking for website traffic, or something more?

Loomer admits that in the early stages of Facebook marketing, he was convinced that it was ‘likes’ he was after. But soon he realized that all the ‘likes’ in the world are worth only the amount of sales he procures. In other words, if he had only a hundred ‘likes,’ but 12% of those users converted into customers then that is far better than a million ‘likes’ and only 0.000001% of those users making a purchase. Loomer gives us realistic insight into getting “value out of your fan base.” He writes;

Your job as an advertiser is to understand the environment. Undesirable people and accounts are everywhere. They are a minefield. You need to avoid them and reach the people most likely to care about your brand.

A Third Input

Dan Lyons wrote an article entitled “If Facebook Ads Don’t Work, Why Do So Many Companies Keep Buying Them?” In this article, he discusses what Nate Elliot, analyst at Forrester Research, claimed about Facebook “failing marketers.” That statement is based off a chart of levels of satisfaction for 13 marketing channels.

Controversy Over Facebook Ads

Due to the attention this report received from a plethora of news publications (Business Insider, BusinessWeek, CNET, Marketwatch), Facebook and its supporters took notice and reciprocated their own “No, you’re useless” remarks. Both sides feel they’ve done something more useful than the other and no one wants to admit that mistakes were made by them. But this isn’t about egos, this is about business, and whether or not marketers can rely on Facebook as a successful marketing channel.

It seems obvious that a correlation between Facebook’s vast increase in revenue and the effectiveness of its marketing services does not exist. There is one thing for sure, and that’s that Facebook is the best marketer for itself. After all, why are users letting so much cash flow if the results aren’t clear? Just because Facebook reported their net income for this year at $425 million doesn’t mean that Facebook marketing is effective. All that means is users are spending a lot of money to try to make it work.

One thing that’s clear at this moment is that there are many users on Facebook who are over-saturated with ads. Perhaps the problem isn’t Facebook or its marketing services, but its users. After all, how can Facebook be at fault when its users don’t engage? Facebook does control our lives, but not to that extant. Perhaps it’s not bad marketing at a high price, but rather just saturated users. Maybe they’re tired of ads. The launch of Ello and Tsu reflects that.

Facebook’s advertising service is no easy button. Loomer correctly wrote, “Your job as advertiser is to understand the environment.”

Are we falling for the easy way out (or in), or are we trying our hardest to market ourselves successfully?

Please share you thoughts in the comments below.