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How Agencies Use Vanity Metrics to Fake Success

5 min read

I'm a Creative Director, working in the advertising and design industries for over 15 years.
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I watched their Cannes case study and thought to myself:

"Why the hell do Likes matter?"

Then I heard the work quoted in a pitch presentation and wondered:

"Sure, but did it work?"


Whether it's on Facebook or anywhere else on the internet, any measurement, metric, or KPI can be twisted to present your campaign as freaking awesome. But those metrics might mean absolutely nothing.

They're pointless ways of measuring marketing success called vanity metrics.

Vanity metrics are empty calories of data. They look great, but mean nothing.

Let's cut through the bullshit and figure out how to avoid vanity metrics.

Then we can focus on the metrics that actually measure your campaign's success (or utter failure).



What Are Vanity Metrics?

Vanity metrics are all those pieces of data that feel great when they go up, but make no real difference to success.

For almost a decade, businesses have been urged to shy away from them, ignoring them and focusing on important ways of measuring success.

However, in the ad industry, we use them all the time to justify the efforts we put into our work. And to make sure the client doesn't think they're wasting their money.

You see them everywhere, but two places more than anywhere else.

  1. Award show submission.
  2. And boardroom presentations.

Whether it's to win our clients over or win trophies, agencies use them to make the work look impressive.

Impressive, when it's not.

Worthless Metrics

👎 Followers/Friends/Page Likes

During the early days of social media, brands wanted one thing: followers. More followers meant more free advertising. People they didn't have to pay to show their ads to.

But since then, social has changed.

Organic reach for brands has dwindled to a whisper of what it used to be. To the point where it just doesn't make sense to invest heavily into followers anymore.

  • Facebook - Organic reach is near ZERO for brands.
  • Instagram - Not far behind, but still some potential.
  • Twitter - Gray area. Can still have some decent reach.
  • YouTube - More potential. Subscribers will subscribe to content, not ads.
  • Snapchat - Their update is separating branded content from everything else.
  • Pinterest - Still pretty organic with decent potential for the right content.

🤞 Post Likes/Shares

When it comes to someone Liking or Sharing your post, it's all about the content spreading.

That's because, on most social platforms, whether you Like or Share a post, it gets reposted as "Jeremy liked this." and displays that post in their friends' feeds.

This is the last hope for organic/earned reach. It's good, but still doesn't mean it was successful.

Then again, it's possible to buy those. So, they can't really matter that much.

👎 Impressions

We buy impressions. It's as simple as that.

It's called CPM (cost per mille/thousand), and it's how we measure how much to buy.

Earned impressions make you feel good, which come from people sharing, liking, and commenting. However, rarely do we separate those out when we talk about them.

👎 Click Throughs

Buying clicks, accidental clicks, fraudulent clicks. All of those plague the industry. So, when someone says they got a great CTR (click through rate), who cares?

It's been proven that a giant banner that just says "Click Here" gets a good CTR. What difference does that make to the campaign if they bail immediately afterwards?

🤞 "Engagement"

Engagement is a catch-all term that analytics, use to simplify a collection of different numbers.

Depending on the medium, it can be:

  • Likes
  • Shares
  • Comments
  • Clicks
  • Views
  • Dwell time

...or pretty much anything that means you "engaged" with that content. Just a big ol' stew of numbers made into one.

So, it's best to break it down into the best metric for you, which depends more on this next part...

Metrics That Matter

👍 View Time

When it comes to awareness campaigns, where all you want to know is that your message is getting through to people, view time is very important.

But also keep in mind, what have they viewed in that time? If they watched 5 seconds of a 15-second video, but your branding doesn't come on until 13 seconds, you haven't achieved your awareness goal.

Make compelling content people want to view, but accept the best practices of the platforms.

👍 Dwell Time

You've gotten them to the site. They didn't leave. They even stuck around for a while.

Awesome. Because depending upon what your site is all about, your dwell time could be essential to the campaign.

And with products like Canvas Ads on Facebook and Instagram, dwell time is essential to know how long people have spent in that unit itself.

👍 Qualified Traffic

To ensure click throughs actually pay off, what you should be concerned with is qualified traffic (QTR).

This is when someone clicks on an ad, goes to your site, and then does something important. This could be:

  • Submitting a lead
  • Searching for a product
  • Customizing their product
  • Clicking on another item after that
  • Watching a video

...or anything that shows they didn't just click and leave. Did they show any kind of interest after they got to where you sent them?

This is probably the most important metric of any campaign, other than pure awareness and branding.

👍 Store Visits

This is something Facebook has been fine-tuning lately for brick-and-mortar businesses: knowing someone saw your ad and then went to a store.

Once they get there, it's in the business's hands. But knowing that your ad actually helped someone get their ass there is pretty powerful.

👍 Sales

Attribution to sales is the holy grail of advertising. Lots of platforms are attempting to measure this, but right now, it's early.

Use this metric appropriately, though. Most marketing's intent is to move the needle on sales. But don't use a sales metric to prove a branding campaign's performance. They're not built for that.



How to Measure Real Success

What matters?

It's that simple. Just ask yourself: what is the real point of your campaign?

Because when we look to vanity metrics, we're focusing on what's easy. Making effective marketing campaigns is difficult, but why would we do anything else?

So the next time you're looking at a case study, award submission, or pitch that focuses on the wrong metrics, take it with a grain of salt...or a block of salt.

Because the numbers may lie.

Thanks for reading!

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