Customers say Meta’s ad-buying AI blows through budgets in a matter of hours

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AI is here to terminate your bank account.
Enlarge / AI is here to terminate your bank account.

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Give the AI access to your credit card, they said. It’ll be fine, they said. Users of Meta’s ad platform who followed that advice have been getting burned by an AI-powered ad purchasing system, according to The Verge. The idea was to use a Meta-developed AI to automatically set up ads and spend your ad budget, saving you the hassle of making decisions about your ad campaign. Apparently, the AI funnels money to Meta a little too well: Customers say it burns, though, what should be daily ad budgets in a matter of hours, and costs are inflated as much as 10-fold.

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The AI-powered software in question is the “Advantage+ Shopping Campaign.” The system is supposed to automate a lot of ad setup for you, mixing and matching various creative elements and audience targets. The power of AI-powered advertising (Google has a similar product) is that the ad platform can get instant feedback on its generated ads via click-through rates. You give it a few guard rails, and it can try hundreds or thousands of combinations to find the most clickable ad at a speed and efficiency no human could match. That’s the theory, anyway.

The Verge spoke to “several marketers and businesses” with similar stories of being hit by an AI-powered spending spree once they let Meta’s system take over a campaign. The description of one account says the AI “had blown through roughly 75 percent of the daily ad budgets for both clients in under a couple of hours” and that “the ads’ CPMs, or cost per impressions, were roughly 10 times higher than normal.” Meanwhile, the revenue earned from those AI-powered ads was “nearly zero.” The report says, “Small businesses have seen their ad dollars get wiped out and wasted as a result, and some have said the bouts of overspending are driving them from Meta’s platforms.”

Meta’s Advantage+ sales pitch promises to “Use machine learning to identify and aim for your highest value customers across all of Meta’s family of apps and services, with minimal input.” The service can “Automatically test up to 150 creative combinations and deliver the highest performing ads.” Meta promises that “on average, companies have seen a 17 percent reduction in cost per action [an action is typically a purchase, registration, or sign-up] and a 32 percent increase in return on ad spend.”

In response to the complaints, a Meta spokesperson told The Verge the company had fixed “a few technical issues” and that “Our ads system is working as expected for the vast majority of advertisers. We recently fixed a few technical issues and are researching a small amount of additional reports from advertisers to ensure the best possible results for businesses using our apps.” The Verge got that statement a few weeks ago, though, and advertisers are still having issues. The report describes the service as “unpredictable” and says what “other marketers thought was a one-time glitch by Advantage Plus ended up becoming a recurring incident for weeks.”

To make matters worse, layoffs in Meta’s customer service department mean it’s been difficult to get someone at Meta to deal with the AI’s spending sprees. Some accounts report receiving refunds after complaining, but it can take several tries to get someone at customer service to deal with you and upward of a month to receive a refund. Some customers quoted in the report have decided to return to pre-AI, non-automated way of setting up a Meta ad campaign, which can take “an extra 10 to 20 minutes.”

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