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  • Writer's pictureJason Burlin

Drawbacks of Facebook Ads' Advantage+ Shopping

If you've tried advertising on Facebook or Instagram, you've probably seen Advantage+ shopping a lot. It's like the popular choice for setting up ads. And honestly, it works pretty well. It does better than most regular ad campaigns, and Facebook keeps suggesting we use it.

To quickly explain, Facebook says that Advantage+ shopping is a part of their bigger Advantage+ tools. These tools use smart algorithms and machine learning to help ads find the right people easily and quickly. In simple terms, it lets you set up an ad campaign in one step and promises fast results. I think it makes a lot of sense, and I talked about it more in another article I wrote before.

But this article isn't about explaining how it works. I'm writing to talk about some problems or things advertisers might not know. Things that are worth thinking about.

Setting up a main campaign without choosing who sees it is handy. Because sometimes, we humans don't choose as well as computers do. But letting this new ad system do everything might have some downsides. Even if Facebook says it's doing great, there might be things they're not showing. I'll talk more about that below.

You don't have much say in who sees your ads. By that, I mean you really can't choose much. With Advantage+ shopping campaigns, you can't pick based on gender. So, if you're selling something just for women or just for men, the ad might show to both men and women at first. The idea is that the system will "learn" over time which gender likes and buys from your ads more. Now, in some odd situations, even if you're selling only to men or women, the ad might still show to both. Why? It could be because, in some way, the other gender is also buying or responding to your ad. Maybe couples are using the same device or account, so that's why this mix-up happens. The folks at Meta say that even if both genders see your ads, you're still getting good results and spending less money on the right audience because their system works so well. So, they see it as a win-win. But do I believe that? Not really.

It's the same with age groups. You can't choose specific age ranges for this kind of campaign. Sure, you can set an age limit for your whole ad account, but you can't do it for each individual campaign. That's odd. Like, if I'm selling something mainly for people aged 45 and up, why would I want the system to show my ad to an 18-year-old? The only thing you really get to pick is the countries you target. Everything else? It's done automatically. The system is built on the idea that it can find the right people for your ads better and more efficiently than you can. It kind of hints that it knows your customers better than you do, which is why it wants to control things like age and interests.

It's worth noting that you can't target based on interests, lookalikes, or behaviors either. But for those who know how machine learning and advertising work on a platform where users come to discover (not search), they'll realize that these targeting options were often unnecessary and a waste of money. So, while they're gone in this setup, it's likely for the best.

You can't choose where your ads go, and this is a big reason why I don't recommend using Advantage+ shopping. Meta wants you to throw all your ads into Advantage+ shopping campaigns, and their system decides where each ad appears, like IG feed, Reels, Stories, etc. This means if you design an ad for an Instagram post, it might end up on Stories or Reels, even if it doesn’t look right there. The same goes for other placements. Meta's argument? They say you're being too picky. If an ad meant for the feed gets tweaked a bit and shows up on Reels but still does well, what's the problem? And if an ad doesn't do well in a place where it doesn't fit, the system will notice and adjust. I have two main issues with that. First, I'm skeptical about Meta's claims. Just because they report an ad led to a sale doesn't mean it truly did. Second, if you care about your brand's image, you'll want your ads to look perfect every time they show up. Should you really let a machine decide how your brand appears online? Even if you trust Meta's system to decide where to place your ads, what if the data they give back is off? What if those sales didn't really come directly from the ads? What if Meta is just taking credit where it's not due? These are some open questions that don’t have clear answers.

There's an uneven spread among the ads. With Advantage+ shopping ads, you put everything together. This shares learning and data, which is good. However, the system quickly picks which ad it thinks will do best based on only a little data. It chooses what's likely to sell well now, not necessarily what will be best for long-term sales. This might mean some products or brand messages get missed. The system is looking at which ads are most likely to get a quick sale, not always what's best for your overall sales. Using lots of ads might take longer to show results, but it might get more customers in the end. If you use fewer ads in a campaign, you lose some shared learning but have better control over which ads are seen. It's more varied and can be less repetitive, which is better in the long run. It's something to think about.

Questionable results. There are concerns about unclear results and the targeting methods for both new and existing users in Shopping+ campaigns. This issue is crucial due to its significance. One primary concern is how Shopping+ Advantage ads divide their attention between users unfamiliar with your business and those already considering a purchase.

There are two key points to understand:

A. Consistency with Meta's Campaigns: Shopping+ is similar to other Meta campaigns. Unless you specifically exclude all past customers, website visitors, and known audiences, your ads will target your "warm traffic". Regardless of whether you use lookalikes, specific interests, or broad targeting, this approach remains consistent. The primary goal is to drive conversions. The system doesn't focus on whether a user might have purchased anyway. Instead, it scans all opportunities and prioritizes those users deemed most likely to convert.

B. Specifics about Shopping+: From my observations (though I lack concrete data currently), it seems Shopping+ effectively segments active users based on pixel activity, retargeting them more efficiently than other campaign types. When assessing the metrics, I've noticed unusually high conversion rates in some datasets. This could indicate targeting users already familiar with the brand. Breaking down the data, specific demographics and geographic locations often exhibit higher conversion rates than the overall site rate, hinting at targeting warm users. There's also a distinct pattern: businesses with sales from other channels tend to perform better on Shopping+ campaigns than those without. Interestingly, reducing the daily budget for some campaigns doesn't always result in fewer conversions. For instance, a campaign might generate 100 conversions for $1000 daily spend. But when cutting that budget in half, we sometimes still see nearly the same conversion number. This suggests a possible "cap" on available conversion opportunities. After reaching this cap, ads might target users unfamiliar with the brand, leading to suboptimal results and impacting overall campaign performance.

In summary, while the Advantage+ shopping tool on Meta platforms offers some promising features, advertisers should be aware of its limitations and potential pitfalls. Ensuring a brand's integrity and reaching the right audience remains a delicate balance in the evolving digital advertising landscape.

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Jason Burlin

A seasoned marketer with more than a decade of experience in online paid advertising. Managed more than $150M in ad spend and worked with more than 500+ brands. He is known as the unconventional marketer.

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