Facebook has a much larger audience inflation problem than previously thought

Earlier this year, research analyst Brian Wieser pointed out that Facebook’s advertising reach in the US does not actually match the US Census Bureau data of US citizens. This was followed by widespread discussion of Facebook inflating its audience reach. Whilst Facebook claims it can reach 41 million US adults between the ages 18 to 24 years, the US Census data suggests that there are only 31 million people of that age group in the country.

Now, a new report from the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) suggests that the discrepancy may be even more prevalent.

According to the VAB, Facebook’s advertising reach actually outpaces US Census data for every single state in the US from 3% to a whopping 42%.

Reach inflation on Facebook is more pronounced across the most populous cities in the US, although it was also evident across smaller cities.

Additionally, the company’s estimated daily reach is twice to 12x higher than when calculated according to basic media math.

For advertisers this inflation presents a big problem when preparing their media budgets. For example, a demographically-targeted, $5,000 budget, one-day campaign on the social media network creates a gap of over 10 million adults between the ages 18 to 24. It would actually cost between $10,000 to $100,000 to reach the suggested audiences.

The report concludes:

Whether this is truly another metrics glitch remains to be seen. However, with questions of trust regarding ad-tech platforms at an all-time high among many marketers, our analysis provides another instance where first-party data should at least be questioned, or even challenged, particularly when the numbers don’t align with universally accepted metrics such as U.S. Census Bureau population data and basic media math.

Whilst it should be unacceptable that a major advertising platform such as Facebook continues to miscalculate its audience reach, there are some factors that may need to be addressed, such as single users having more than one Facebook account as well as users owning multiple devices.