Meta advertisers are adrift in adversity as bug-filled problems persist

During a recent Meta Day in Slovenia, an ad exec had their suspicions confirmed. After years of using Meta for client advertising, they were fed up with its frequent bugs and lack of proper compensation for ad overspending. The apathy was palpable at the event, where they and others expressed their frustrations to Robert Bednarski, Meta’s country director of CEE. His response? “Adopt Meta or die,” leaving them dumbfounded and with no recourse. Though Meta refutes this was said.

Still, to those advertisers on the receiving end of it, it’s the most direct response yet to the ongoing problems plaguing them. 

Max Langlois, founder and CEO of performance marketing agency Hype10, for example, said that typically it’s like going around in circles. 

Not that the blunt reality check makes any of this easier for advertisers to deal with. If anything, it makes it all the more frustrating.

“It’s very frustrating because we’ll inform our clients that an issue has arisen, then we’ll notify our Meta rep to explain that we are seeking recompensation from Meta for the overspend,” Langlois explained. “But what ends up happening is, you don’t really hear anything [back from Meta] about it.”

For some ad execs, silence from Meta might feel like a blessing. Especially when those who do hear back from the social network tend to be offered credits rather than actual refunds for the money loss incurred due to bugs. And those losses can be staggering.

When Langlois and his team were hit by one of the recent bugs on February 14, they had to juggle ad budgets for 30 out of 37 advertisers they manage. During the glitch, CPMs shot up from an average of 15 to 150 for about an hour, causing major disruptions.

“The reach was similar, but the CPMs were so high that we basically got charged 10X for that one hour, what would have been a standard hour of delivery,” Langlois added.

As it turned out, his Meta rep gave him a heads up that there was a server-side bug that caused the over delivery, and it was rectified by the next day. Since then, though, there’s still no official communication from Meta regarding the issue. Instead, communication often stems from frustrated ad professionals discussing their grievances on public platforms like X, formerly Twitter.

“Sadly, Meta has proven time and time again that they’re probably not going to do right by the advertisers and the small businesses in this scenario,” Langlois explained. “Don’t get me wrong, Meta is an amazing tool, I have my job and my business because of this ad platform. But there are a lot of inefficiencies in the system right now.”

It’s so bad now that ad execs can’t recall a worse time to run ads on the platform. In the past, bugs were less frequent and resolved much more swiftly. Now, it can take weeks to address them properly.

“Since September 2023, Meta advertising has been a mess, and Q1 2024 has been the worst in my five years of experience,” said Rok Hladnik, managing partner of Flat Circle agency. 

Hladnik explained that from September, he started to notice performance issues and instability. But since January, his team has been dealing with the endless bugs. “Overspending, underspending, errors — multiple times each month, it’s been awful.” 

Like Langlois, Hladnik found that Meta’s client support managers haven’t found a resolution. “It’s affecting our relationship with Meta a lot,” he said. “We work with four different Meta offices [globally], and those in Europe are even more clueless [about what is going on] than those in the U.S.”

Marketers like this find themselves in a Catch-22: Meta is widely regarded as the most efficient ad platform with the best ROI thanks to its ubiquitous reach. However, as the platform continues to expand, so too does the occurrence of bugs, which have become an inherent part of advertising on Meta. The frustration among ad execs has reached a tipping point, with their patience wearing thin.

Speaking specifically about these bugs on Meta’s ads platform, a spokesperson for the social network told Digiday: “Our ads system is working as expected for the vast majority of advertisers. We recently fixed a few technical issues and are researching a small amount of additional reports from advertisers to ensure the best possible results for businesses using our apps.”

Still, more and more marketers are set on the idea of not wanting to spend any more money on Meta, and some are even considering alternatives. Yes, this isn’t anything Meta ad bosses won’t have heard countless times over the past decade, but normally it’s from larger advertisers whose dollars account for a small portion of its ads business. Now, it’s the smaller yet potentially more significant advertisers making these threats. 

Selom Agbitor, co-founder of tattoo skincare brand Mad Rabbit, for example, shares a similar experience to Langlois and Hladnik. He explained (without sharing exact figures) that his team has been reducing spend on Meta by about 20% to 25% so far, and it hasn’t impacted revenues as much as they thought it would. Instead, the move has reinforced the idea of not becoming too reliant on any one platform.

“It’s helped us to have a testing budget to see other channels and what else might work in case we ever [have to] lose Meta for good,” said Agbitor. Those other testing channels being YouTube, TikTok, podcasts and even CTV now that the brand has a larger retail presence.

There won’t be a sudden wave of advertisers pulling ad budgets in protest of these bugs. Meta ads hold too much value for them (at least right now) to take such drastic action. However, many may choose to increase their spending more cautiously in the future.

For Hladnik, most of his U.S. clients are still above last year’s spend on Meta. But for new clients, some of them are down 30%, some even zero. Though he did caveat that the macroeconomic factors at play and Chinese competitors are perhaps hurting European brands more than the U.S., so that is an additional factor.

And it’s not just smaller brands or agency execs that are reevaluating their options. Even holding companies are now starting to reconsider.

“There are big questions, from our perspective, as to whether or not that [Meta dominating social spend] is justified, or whether that’s by default and laziness,” one ad exec said to Digiday, who exchanged anonymity for candor. “The whole industry wants to diversify. There’s no question about that. It’s just whether or not people are going to take the plunge and we’re trying to work out what our approach is going to be.

“If the performance is there, at the end of the day, our first obligation is spending our clients money to the best of its ability. But we are, I think, for the first time in a long time, really going to hold partners up to the light and see whether or not they are doing what we need them to be doing.” 

Put simply, in advertisers’ eyes, Meta is profiting from these bugs, and offering the platform equivalent of a gift card as mea culpa. 

A counter argument, though, from independent analyst and investor Eric Seufer, who posted about the media headlines these bugs have created on X. “When DTC marketing teams see return on ad spend (ROAS) decline, they blame a systemic flaw that will result in long-term platform abandonment and spend diversification. When they see ROAS increase, they ask for raises,” he said.

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