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March 21, 2013

Slate: Facebook is making you buy things

(Continued)

PALO ALTO, Calif. —

These general insights make a strong case for Facebook ads. First, according to the study, Facebook ads work. "Of the first 60 campaigns we looked at, 70 percent had a 3X or better return-on-investment — that means that 70 percent of advertisers got back three times as many dollars in purchases as they spent on ads," says Sean Bruich, Facebook's head of measurement platforms and standards. What's more, half of the campaigns showed a 5X return — advertisers got back five times what they spent on Facebook ads.

But the most interesting finding was the total lack of correlation between purchases and clicks. "On average, if you look at people who saw an ad on Facebook and later bought a product, [fewer than] 1 percent had clicked on the ad," Bruich says. In other words, the click doesn't matter; people who click on ads aren't necessarily buying, and people who are buying are almost certainly not clicking.

As Facebook's measurement systems improve, you might even see better ads — one of the eventual goals the system, Bruich says, is to figure out what kinds of ads appeal to what kinds of users, so over time you'll be presented with ads that are less likely to annoy you. And if, as you insist, ads really don't work on you — that you never buy things because of marketing you see on Facebook — it's theoretically possible that Facebook's system would be able to figure that out, too, and maybe the site won't show you any messages.

But that's unlikely. You may not love the ads you see — and you'll still never click on them. But unbeknownst to you, Facebook ads still work on you. Resistance is futile.

Manjoo is Slate's technology reporter and the author of "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society." Twitter: @fmanjoo

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