Facebook ads impact is just more ‘measurable’ than TV ads, not necessarily ‘effective’

They have been talking for a while about the death of the 30 second commercial. And social media were not the first technologies that inspired such claims.Yet, the size of Facebook with its tightly connected ‘anatomy’ has made these claims more vociferous. (The average degree of separation between any two people on Facebook is just 3.8, means that just in four steps a message can actually travel from anyone to anyone else, on average).

A recent post exemplifying this refrain, claims that Facebook promotion ( paid ads + all other kinds of messages) deliver 70 times more impressions ( eyeballs that see the ad) for the same cost than an ad on prime time television in the UK ( on coronation street) and 180 times more impressions than the same campaigns in the US . They argue that a well run Facebook campaign can generate 4 to 5 billion impressions versus the TV campaign that reaches a 100 million for the same duration. The claim is problematic due to the way impressions are counted for the two media.

The Facebook number is reached by counting the people touched directly (who friend or like the brand pages), their friends (who see it in their feeds, comments or messages) and friends of friends of those directly touched. In other words upto 3 levels removed from the campaign. For TV they simply count the number of eyeballs that saw the commercial ( the way marketers have computed ad effectiveness for TV ads for decades). There seems an implied an assumption that prime time television advertising only reaches those who see it directly. However just as Facebook page activity, television advertising too inspires conversations and recommendations through word of mouth that can make it reach a significant multiple of that 100 million, especially over the course of the year. In fact, the worth of one such conversation or recommendation (including on Facebook) ‘may’ be worth a few hundred Facebook impressions, a miniscule number of which may actually count themselves. However, obtaining any similar accurate measurement for the extended impact of TV advertising is next to impossible. However, his does not mean that there is no extended impact.

On first degree impressions, TV campaigns clearly achieve much more than the biggest Facebook pages( even Coca-Cola has just 53 million likes). Next, it may be worth pondering why these extended 4 to 5 billion impressions may not really count for a lot. Consider that for each person who likes a brand page, that activity appears on some laundry list of notifications of 16% of their 190 friends (Currently 16% of FB users are able to see such posts, and the average number of friends on FB is 190). A miniscule number of these impressions are likely to be welcomed or even consumed. Those receiving them may be just users who haven’t optimized their news feeds enough to avoid such notifications. Finally the post claims that Facebook itself did not have any data on the third level of sharing (to friends of friends of directly touched). This will be presumably much lower than the 16% on level 1. Think of chance that a friend of your friend is interested in the activity by their friend ( who is not a mutual friend) with a campaign or brand page. Since these data were not available, they used some triangulation to estimate some multipliers, and do not mention either the multipliers (no of people reached further by each person) or the attenuation (what % of people’s friends will receive such a message).

Of course other points worth considering are 1) why people like brand pages on Facebook (to get discounts!) and 2) how did they learn about these brands (surely not exclusively through FB campaigns or noticing friends who liked FB campaigns, but perhaps through prime time advertising and conversations with friends and family). These concerns make the value of these impressions questionable, even if their sheer volume is estimated properly. Of course the same can be argued for TV advertising that people do not want to see, but end up watching.

In sum, the key point here is that just because Facebook due to the traces users leave, allows one to measure how a campaign circulates beyond the first degree impressions and TV does not, one cannot conclude that Facebook campaigns are that much more cost effective than prime time TV.


3 thoughts on “Facebook ads impact is just more ‘measurable’ than TV ads, not necessarily ‘effective’

  1. We should expect a a little more objectively from a PHD student – I’d have failed mine if my output was this poorly thought through ! The idea that actual recorded impressions on a website versus a TV viewing figure derived from panel of TV habits of what 5000 people were watching, and what they may have talked to their friends about are hardly comparable. TV ads do hit on great themes that are memorable and talked about – but this is the tiny minority. The average TV ad does not make it out of the room ! Not saying that TV ads don’t do fantastic jobs for brands, they do. But to claim they probably have greater influence based on the writer’s gut feel is pretty laughable.
    Another more thorough thing to do would be including costs of reaching people though different channels. TV is very expensive. Friends of friends impressions are very cheap.
    As a final point, not sure I agree with the presumption that people like social media pages to get discounts. You even reference 53m Coke fans – how many of those joined for discount do you reckon ?
    TV will continue to play a vital role within building brand equity. The new ways of marketing using social media do a different job, as far as I can see on a greater scale and with more power than TV.

    1. Robert
      Thanks for being concerned about my PhD. I will let you know what my committee decides.
      Now as regards your substantive points, the argument of too few households for TV measurement is fairly invalid from a statistical significance standpoint, it only has rhetorical value.
      The purpose of my post was to precisely say that the two are not comparable. And to say why Kirk ( the post I reference) was wrong in reaching that 70-150 times more effective CPM range, which is quite absurd.
      Finally, this is not a research based post. It is a response to something absurd I read, based on the flaws I identified.

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