Census Data and Facebook Data Don’t Add Up


Advertising on Facebook can be costly, but the platform has reach. It is also constantly reinventing ways it can deliver original content to the right viewer at the right time. Because of its consumer reach many marketers continue to pump their marketing budget into Facebook but a recent discovery may cause some of those marketers to pause.

According to U.S. census data there are 41 million people between the ages of 18 and 24 in the United States. According to Facebook there are 41 million. In the 25 to 34 age group, the census pins down 35 million but Facebook places the number at 60 million. And the discrepencies aren’t unique to the United States. The data differences were first noticed in Australia. An AdNews article revealed that Facebook claimed to connect with 1.7 million more 16 through 39 year-olds than the country has in its population.

Brian Weiser, an advertising analyst at Pivotal Research dug a bit deeper and found the U.S. discrepancies. Weiser wrote, “Measurement issues at Facebook have been top-of-mind for many of those same marketers over the past year given revelations around over-stated average video viewing time, video viewing completions, miscalculations of organic page reach and other data which impacts how budgets are planned.”

This discovery comes at an inopportune moment for Facebook. The company is rolling out plans to increase its video use and is looking to take on YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter which already offer users original video media. Weiser believes that Facebook is using the television ad budget as a target but with its limited video options TV advertisers were not flocking to Facebook. With increased reach and video, Facebook stood a chance.

Trying to make up in numbers what it lacks in original content delivery methods is a strategy that hasn’t been working with TV advertisers, in part due to the platform’s lack of brand equity and premium content.

Additionally, Facebook is battling other controversies like fake news and miscalculations that are giving advertisers pause. The company maintains that the discrepancies are caused by location-based data. This would include visitors and travelers who aren’t accounted for in census data. They also suggest that a number of younger users lie about their age when they enter self-reported data. At the Dmexco ad-tech conference next week in Germany, Facebook is unveiling new brand safety tools which should help mitigate some concerns.


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