Does Facebook Pixel Still Work? Depends Who You Ask

Meta may have recently released better-than-expected quarterly reports, but if you talk to most analysts, things are not looking good for Zuck and co. The big Metaverse bet is, if one judges by the amount the company and its CEO has been talking about it, dead. And while the Q1 bump is expected to continue into Q2 with another modest quarter of growth, investors aren’t necessarily thrilled with the current state of affairs. That’s because, according to company’s own earnings report, this tailwind is the result of increases in Daily Active Users and Ad Impressions served. To be clear, that’s across the family of apps—which include WhatsApp.

Our guess is that actual DAUs for the flagship products here in the States—Facebook and Instagram—are probably down. That’s due to a number of factors, but the big one is a mass migration to TikTok among key demographics. Perhaps more importantly, if ad impressions are actually up, from what we at Sonar see in customer data, that’s because the company is incentivizing advertisers this summer.

Following multiple years of incremental CPM increases through the summer months that rivaled holiday season spikes, our national advertiser clients are currently seeing as much as a 44% decrease in CPMs. They’re getting more for their money and actually exhausting budgets in a period when some campaigns couldn’t keep up with the competition in the past.

Unfortunately for Meta, 2-3% growth—even when it represents millions of dollars—still means the business is essentially failing catastrophically. That’s because earnings pale in comparison to their burn rate. Stack the disastrous Metaverse experiment and wobbly Threads initiative into the mix, and you have another quarter of significant volatility.

Theoretically, the world should be Meta and Mark’s oyster right now—at least in terms of advertising. Twitter ad revenue is down almost 66% right now, and all of those dollars need to go somewhere. Not to mention the fact that digital advertising is still the cheapest game in town. With CPMs that pale in comparison to traditional media, it’s possible to imagine a world in which Facebook, Instagram and Meta itself are not absolutely tanking.

The problem is that Meta is still acting like it’s business as usual. As an agency owner, my employees get absolutely hassled by reps who insist that the Facebook pixel is still tracking conversions the way it used to. Whereas, if you have a pixel on your site, you’ve probably wondered if it even still works at all.

A Story as Old as Time

Stop me if you’ve heard this one… a brash new entrepreneur comes on the scene with a brilliant new product. Their company disrupts an entire industry, promising better, faster, cheaper… whatever. But in time, the entrepreneur—even one with a business card that apparently read “I’m CEO, bitch”—becomes reactive to investor and market pressures and steers the shiny new ship into well-traveled waters. In short, the disruptor fades into the wallpaper, coming to resemble the very entities it/they once defined themselves in opposition to.

From where we sit as an experienced digital marketing firm, Facebook and now Meta, have done just that. True, the company and its ad platforms did once serve as a foil to the bloat and opacity that characterizes traditional media. In that world, where the cost of an impression is set independent of market demand or the universal rules of physics, advertisers are submitted to a variation of the old parenting aphorism: “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”

Zuck and co. had the opportunity to differentiate themselves just by caring about the people who were forking over their hard-earned cash in order to grow their businesses. For a while, it didn’t matter. Everyone got drunk on reduced advertising costs (with base-unit pricing also conjured out of thin air, seemingly), which led to the “conversion tracking’ heyday. Even though Facebook and it’s pixel technology hoovered up user data with alarming precision and speed, it was possible to track money put into the platform directly to (often dramatically increased) amounts of money coming out of it.

Feed the Beast, Then Become It

When the iOS 14.5 release effectively gutted the Facebook pixel’s ability to track conversions, what the company had become was not pretty. At seemingly every turn they had invested in infrastructure that pointed towards a near total disregard for users and advertisers alike. On the agency side, we’ve now dealt with overseas ad reps who pester us about using the company’s outdated, essentially non-functional tracking pixel for two years. When clients ask us if the Facebook pixel on their site still works, the answer is essentially, “no.” The bottom line is that, while solutions do exist for organizations with significant development resources, what’s left of Facebook/Meta’s ad platform is neither approachable nor easy to use for the very advertisers who need it most—small and medium-sized businesses, community organizations, school groups and non-profits.

At Sonar, we still recommend that clients incorporate Meta ads into their multi-channel strategies. But some serious strategy and novel tactics need to be a part of the picture. And we’re upfront about the fact that attribution will never be what it once was.

For instance, while Facebook’s pixel no longer works to conversions from the platform through to your company site, there is still value in elements of the data you can access within Facebook and Instagram themselves. In short, your pixel may be broken, but you do still have options for optimizing your marketing on the platform side.

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