Optimizing Audience Buying on Facebook and Instagram

With 7.9 billion global mobile devices and connections, there are now more mobile devices than people in the world.1 Our phones are creating new means and platforms to reach people wherever they are. In the US, 1 in 5 mobile minutes is spent on Facebook and Instagram to connect with family, friends and the world.2 In this landscape, marketers want to understand not only the best way to plan media spend across channels but also the interests, needs and expectations of people on Facebook and Instagram.

But measuring the effectiveness of cross-platform and cross-channel campaigns isn’t an easy task. A recent eMarketer survey showed that when it comes to cross-platform measurement, 35% of advertisers are “not using a robust measurement technique,” while 34% say they “evaluate each channel individually and optimize based on channel-specific performance.”3

Facebook Marketing Science wanted to help marketers understand how to leverage the maximum value of their advertising dollars by robustly measuring campaigns across multiple placements, specifically Facebook and Instagram. Read on for topline findings from this research, and download the white paper for an expanded discussion of our analysis on running ads across multiple placements and what it all means for marketers.


Getting the most value out of your cross-platform spend

Previous Marketing Science research has shown that over the course of a campaign, cost per outcome—from mobile app installs to brand awareness or online conversions—tends to vary between and within platforms due to audience behavior and characteristics. While advertisers and agencies can manually allocate budgets across platforms to account for these changes, placement optimization leverages Facebook’s ad delivery system to dynamically seek out the lowest cost per outcome at any given point in time wherever it’s available, whether it be on Facebook or Instagram. As a result, running ads across multiple placements should provide lower cost per outcome than advertising on a single platform or even trying to manually allocate budgets across platforms. Determining whether this approach provides additional value and quantifying those gains aligns to the goals of the Marketing Science team.

Using a randomized control trials (RCTs), our analysis looked at 10 brand advertisers who represented a cross section of verticals CPG (3), Retail (2), Automotive (2), Entertainment (1), Politics (1) and Charity (1) countries (Brazil, Canada, UK and US), budgets and target audiences between December 2015 and May 2016. We deliberately chose a variety of advertisers and campaigns to test, using the same underlying methodology throughout this analysis. For each test, each campaign across Facebook and Instagram used the same ad creative. We then split the budget and audience size equally between a placement optimization test cell in which an ad impression could be either on Facebook or on Instagram and a Facebook-only test cell, where all impressions were delivered exclusively on Facebook.

We explored three hypotheses:

1) Campaign delivery: Buying audiences across Facebook and Instagram is more efficient at campaign delivery than Facebook-only

2) Brand lift:  Buying audiences across Facebook and Instagram generates higher lift than Facebook-only

3) Cost-efficiency: Buying audiences across Facebook and Instagram is more cost-effective in driving lift


We found two of the three hypotheses explored were supported. Looking at the campaign delivery hypothesis first, we saw that, on average, placement optimization campaigns had 4.1% more reach and a 5.2% lower cost per impression (CPM), which in turn led to a lower cost per reach (CPR) of 5.8%.

For brand lift, there was not a statistically significant difference in lift between the placement optimization and the Facebook-only test cells based on this analysis. But it did produce the same level of lift (even though its budget was ultimately spread across a wider exposed audience).

And to explore the cost-efficiency hypothesis we saw that across the various types of brand questions, from top-funnel questions like ad recall to lower-funnel questions like purchase intent, cost per lift on placement optimization was on average 10% to 27% lower. To further explore these results, read the full analysis of this research within the white paper.


What it means for marketers

Our findings show that advertisers should plan their media across Facebook and Instagram for brand campaigns. Across the 10 brand studies we looked at, placement optimization consistently reached more people at lower cost, generated comparable lift to Facebook-only campaigns and provided better cost efficiency in moving brand metrics. In the future, we hope to extend our methodology to look at direct response objectives and expand it across our family of apps.

As marketers plan to run brand campaigns across Facebook and Instagram, they should:

Focus on overall outcomes: Depending on a brand’s goals, there are different ways marketers can approach media planning across platforms. Focus attention on the overall outcome instead of guaranteed delivery on a specific platform. It is normal for campaign delivery to take place mostly on one platform rather than be evenly distributed across both platforms. But do not interpret that as a sign of placement optimization underperforming.

Think big:  Be mindful of ensuring sufficient campaign spend, and keep a large audience. Based on this initial research, it appears that buying audiences across Facebook and Instagram can deliver better results with larger audiences and budgets. Smaller multiple placement campaigns will likely never do worse than a Facebook-only campaign, but the benefits might not be as evident.

Test for yourself: Measurement provides marketers with results to iterate and evaluate business decisions. To understand how best to plan across platforms, marketers should set up their own randomized control trials for their brand to scientifically measure buying media across Facebook and Instagram rather than on Facebook only.



1 “Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2015–2020 White Paper” by Cisco, Feb 2016.
2 Nielsen Mobile Netview, Mar 2016
3 Marketers Still Struggle with Cross-Channel Measurement” by eMarketer, Nov 11, 2015.
Source unless otherwise specified: Facebook internal analysis of 10 brand lift studies (including six reach and frequency campaigns in BR, CA, UK and US), Dec 2015–May 2016. Verticals include Automotive, Consumer Goods, Entertainment, Politics and Retail.