Facebook created a media frenzy when the social network announced that Russian groups purchased ads during the 2016 presidential election. This has rekindled the narrative of the supposed vastness of Russian influence. Fortunately, we are in touch with our own marketing experts who know better – this is a fake narrative, and ridiculously so.
Facebook announced it would turn over 3,000 ads to Congress, a majority of which (56%) were displayed after the election and targeted users based on demographics, race, geography, hobbies, and political beliefs.
“Forty-four percent of the ads were seen before the U.S. election on Nov. 8, 2016, fifty-six percent were seen after the election,” said Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president for policy and communications in a post Monday. “We’re still looking for abuse and bad actors on our platform — our internal investigation continues. We hope that by cooperating with Congress, the Special Counsel and our industry partners, we will help keep bad actors off our platform.”
The tech company was criticized for waiting so long to share this information with the U.S. government. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO said that his company would be more transparent about its political ads vehicle in the future.
“The 2016 US election was the first where evidence has been widely reported that foreign actors sought to exploit the internet to influence voter behavior,” wrote Schrage. “We understand more about how our service was abused and we will continue to investigate to learn all we can. We know that our experience is only a small piece of a much larger puzzle. Congress and the Special Counsel are best placed to put these pieces together because they have much broader investigative power to obtain information from other sources.”
As you can see, Facebook is apologizing, there is little else they can do.
Now the social network company is claiming that 10 million Americans may have seen the ads purchased by different Russian groups. Some experts are even saying this estimate is an understatement. Later reports have estimated as many as 70 million.
“The impact is vastly disproportionate to the amount spent,” said Benjamin G. Edelman, an economics professor at Harvard Business School. “That is what makes this such a brilliant, if not terrible, tactic.”
Our experts disagree vehemently. Every marketer strives to have “impact is vastly disproportionate to the amount spent,” the elusive “viral” campaign. It works maybe one time in five hundred. This professor clearly has never made a media buy.
It is likely that Facebook reported correctly and there were 70 million ads served to 10 million people, or 70 million “impressions.” An impression is one pair of eyeballs reading a page where the ad has been served. We know that we can purchase these kinds of ads for about $1.30 per thousand. So we figure the total cost of such a media buy is about $100,000.
So that says basically 10 million people saw these ads total of 7 times each. Did these 10 million even notice? Most people ignore ads, so-called “banner blindness,” the “clickthrough: rate (someone actually seeing what the ad is about) is exceedingly low. The average person sees 300-700 ads message per day. How many do you notice?
These experts argue that these ads received more traction and engagement due to the buzzworthy content.
“If you can get a hot post, you can get an extra 20-to-40 times multiplier because of those people commenting and sharing it,” said Dennis Yu, founder of BlitzMetrics.
With all due respect to Dennis, he’s full of crap. Our marketing experts have spent tens of thousands in Facebook, the multiplier boost is like hitting the lottery, you are lucky if you get a 5% boost from commenting or sharing. “Hot post”? Better off searching for unicorns.
Another expert pointed out that Facebook ads offer impressive targeting options.
“That’s the beauty of Facebook,” said Cassino. “Facebook is the antithesis of mass media because you are not getting your message out to as many people as possible, but rather those you think will react to it.
But our marketing experts disagree. Yes, Facebook offers great targeting (as do Google and many others). But ads are designed to sell products, you get the best response when you send to people who agree with you. If you target to change peoples minds in the political sense you will find that your efficiency has gone way down. You could have ten times the budget and have almost no effect.
So what kind of messaging was used in the political ads deployed by the Russian groups? Facebook has yet to release any examples. Schrage did say the ads “appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
Our expert’s comment is that the Russians cannot hold a candle to the professionals that operate at the presidential campaign level. Do you honestly think Russian intelligence has anyone with the experience and talent that Madison Avenue brings? Crafting ads for a given audience is both an art and a science, the true experts have years of targeted experience with the audience and the product.
“The ads likely say things that are shocking but plausibly true,” said Edelman. “They won’t say a candidate has three eyes, but they will say a candidate cheated on their taxes. These ads are timely, relevant and provocative.”
I don’t know what the Russians were trying to do but their message was certainly lost in the tens of billions of ads that flood the internet on a daily basis.
Although the Russians could have easily bought 70 million ads, $100,000 worth of ads still is very little in the marketing world. This is a slow week for even smaller ad agencies. Google, for example, serves over 30 billion ads PER DAY and this is only a fraction of the total ads served in total. Coca Cola spent $3.5 billion in ads in 2014, which was over $9 million PER DAY. During Hillary Clinton’s campaign, her team was spending about $3 million per day on ads.
Bottom line, a media buy of this magnitude is laughably insignificant, the potential impact on a national election is so small as to be undetectable.
It’s ridiculous that the liberal media claims that this could have drastically diminished Clinton’s campaign. It’s a joke to think that this amount of advertising would have any influence on anyone especially considering the volume of opposing noisy ads also being put out there that were designed by experts that the Russians could never hope to match.
Clearly, the news media have cherry-picked “experts” who have blown this out of proportion to match their narrative. It’s a fake narrative.