Facebook opens its ad network’s video ads to independent viewability checks

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After a series of measurement errors disclosed last year, marketers’ distrust of Facebook’s math grew, as did their calls for more independent audits. Now the social network is enlisting more outside help to make sure advertisers can count on their Facebook ad counts.

Facebook is adding more ways for advertisers to independently check if their ads had a chance of being seen — including when those ads are sent outside of Facebook — and if the ads were shown to the right people.

For the first time, Facebook is opening up its third-party ad network, Audience Network, to outside viewability verification. Measurement firms ComScore and Integral Ad Science will be able to check if brands’ ads had an adequate chance of being seen when shown on the non-Facebook sites and apps in the ad network.

Facebook touts its ads within Audience Network as well as on Facebook and Instagram as being highly viewable in conversations with ad buyers; its sales reps have even claimed Facebook’s ads are almost 100% viewable, according to people involved in those conversations. But that claim is according to Facebook’s own viewability standards, which informs when Facebook counts an ad impression but can fall short of advertisers’ own standards.

On Facebook and Audience Network, Facebook counts an ad as viewable once 50 percent of it appears on the screen, and on Instagram an ad counts as viewable once 25 percent of it appears on the screen, according to people briefed on the matter; Lewis declined to comment on Facebook’s specific viewability standards. However industry standards require an ad to be in view for a certain amount of time, and some advertisers’ own standards require more of the ad to be in view. The extension of viewability verification to Audience Network enables advertisers to apply these higher viewability standards to more of the ads they buy from Facebook, though still not to all of them.

Third-party viewability measurement in Audience Network will only be allowed for video ads bought with Facebook’s “video views” objective selected, at least for now. Facebook chose to prioritize video ads for viewability verification in Audience Network because it’s a “high-priority and powerful” ad format for its advertisers, said Facebook’s product marketing manager for measurement, Jonathan Lewis.

For what it’s worth, Facebook previously staggered the roll-out of viewability verification for different ad formats on Facebook proper as well. Facebook didn’t add display ad viewability verification until more than a year after rolling it out for video ads in September 2015. And while Facebook announced display ad viewability verification in November 2016, those measurements haven’t been officially made available until now but still not yet for all of Facebook’s display ad formats.

Two months after announcing that ComScore, Integral Ad Science and Moat would be able to check whether brands’ display ads had a chance to be seen on Facebook, those viewability measurements will now start showing up in advertisers’ reporting dashboards, and Facebook has added DoubleVerify to the list of viewability verifiers. However Facebook still needs to add some of its display ads to the list of ad formats whose viewability can be verified. Lewis said that “all of the major” display ad formats on Facebook have been added, but that the “few” exceptions include mobile app install ads.

In addition to giving brands more options for checking that their ads could be seen, it’s adding a new option for checking that the ads were seen by the right people. Facebook has started to test ComScore’s Validated Campaign Essentials tool for verifying that brands’ ads reached their target audience. During the test, the delivery verification will only be available for ads targeted to people in the U.S., but it will work for desktop and mobile ads. This isn’t the first time Facebook has let marketers audit whether their ads are, in fact, being shown to their target audience. Brands have been able to do it for years through Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings measurement system, which is now being extended to measure Facebook ads eight more markets for a total of 25 markets around the world.

Additionally Facebook has built a tool to make it easier for advertisers to plug their Facebook ad data into dashboards used to make channel-by-channel comparison of ad spend and performance. After announcing deals with several of these marketing mix modeling dashboard providers in September 2016, Facebook’s tool — which it’s calling a “marketing mix modeling portal” — can export data from an advertiser’s Facebook, Instagram and Audience Network campaigns into a format that be more easily uploaded into a third-party measurement tool to be compared with data from other channels, such as TV, print and other digital platforms.

Finally, Facebook is renaming the blog series it introduced late last year to organize its measurement error disclosures from “Metrics FYI” to “Measurement FYI.”

About The Author

Tim Peterson, Third Door Media’s Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles. He has broken stories on Snapchat’s ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar’s attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon’s ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube’s programming strategy, Facebook’s ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking’s rise; and documented digital video’s biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed’s branded video production process and Snapchat Discover’s ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands’ early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo’s and Google’s search designs and examine the NFL’s YouTube and Facebook video strategies.


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