I was recently reminded of a fantastic article about how ineffective digital advertising is:

“The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising”, by Jesse Frederik and Maurits Martijn. Published in the (now defunct) Correspondent on 6 of November, 2019. [archive link]

Someone linked to it as part of a discussion around the latest nefarious behaviour by Facebook.

It came out that Facebook knowingly mislead advertisers about the size of “potential reach” for campaigns. They overestimated possible campaign reach by including an extra 10% of fake + duplicate accounts.

Showing inaccurate figures for “potential reach” during campaign setup creates several problems for advertisers. It makes it hard to decide on budget allocation to Facebook vs. other options (like Google ads, and… um… Google ads). An inflated figure also encourages marketers to try and tweak/grow their reach in this medium for longer than they should (“Why am I not hitting that 10k views/day figure? what more can I do?” – surprise, this was never a realistic goal). It also overestimates the size of potential markets when you use FB ad tools as a market research tool.

Look out for the next scandal: the fact that Facebook actually bills you for ad clicks made by those duplicate + fake accounts.

The discussion on Hacker News was interesting, with user “sputr” noting (bolding mine):

I keep warning small time (ie most) FB page owners who advertise on FB to be very very careful as they are being subjected to a beefed up version of the psychological manipulation that regular users face as they, not the regular users, are the main customers.

Facebooks corporate incentive is to get you to FEEL like your getting good value out of advertising on Facebook and to get you addicted to doing it.

Not to actually deliver results.

So don’t trust any metric they show you, because even if its not a total fabrication it’s still presented in a way to deceive you to think its better than it is.

Always monitor your ROI and always calculate it using your truly end goal (sales, or in the case of civil society some sort engagement off Facebook that’s tightly bound to you mission). Likes, shares, comments and reach should NEVER be the goal. Even if FBs interface is trying to convince you otherwise.

This is a really clever take on Facebook’s treatment of advertisers!