Four things I learned about America by running a Facebook ad campaign


Contrary to my slate of Medium articles criticizing Mark Zuckerberg’s choice of breakfast cereals, I have to admire the way he convinced everyone in America to give Facebook all sorts of personal details about themselves for free so that Facebook could create an incredibly targeted ad platform. Genius.

Last month, I decided to get in on the action and see how many downloads of my short story $30 could get me.  

Here is my award-winning ad:


So obviously the first major issue I ran into was that the mobile ad barely gave me enough room to tell the customer what I was selling. But I pressed on and carefully crafted my ideal target audience.


As you can see above, I targeted men and women aged 23 to 35 whose interests included at least one of the following: fantasy, science fiction, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Why did I define my audience like this? Well, my short story is in the science fiction genre, which typically has some crossover appeal to people who read fantasy, and Star Trek and Star Wars are two popular media properties in the sci-fi genre.

According to Facebook’s number crunching, this audience was made up of about 11 million people, and for my $30, my ad would reach 3,200–8,400 people on Facebook daily. Not too shabby.

I ran the ad for five days, and assuming that at a minimum, 3,200 people per day saw the ad, 1% of those people clicked on it, and 25% of the people who clicked on the ad downloaded the story for free, that would equate to 40 downloads.

Then, if half of the people who downloaded the story actually read it, and 25% of the people who read it subscribed to my newsletter via the link at the end of the story, then that would equal five new subscribers to my newsletter.

I can then sell directly to those five people without paying Facebook anything, and if three of those people buy my forthcoming book at $2.99 a pop (of which I get 70%), we’re talking $6.28 of pure profit in my pocket, all for the low initial investment of … $30!

Hmm. I hope there aren’t loads of venture-backed companies throwing around millions of dollars to advertise their apps using the same sets of assumptions that I did.

Anyway, I would gladly pay $30 just to learn how to use Facebook Ads, as in five years when the Internet is nothing but Facebook and Snapchat, those who know how to work these platforms are going to be making a killing while the rest of us will be mindless zombies hooked up to virtual reality headsets.

Our future virtual reality dictator-for-life

I’ll get to the bottom-line results at the end, but here are four lessons I learned from running the campaign:

1. CIA black ops phones are more popular than Blackberry

Device users

Facebook provides the above breakdown on how all users in the United States (not just my targeted audience) access Facebook. The biggest takeaway from this data is that Blackberry still has a Facebook app, which no one is using, as the above shows that “Unknown” (aka the Nokia phones from The Matrixprobably used by the CIA) are more popular than the Facebook Blackberry app. I feel sorry for the intern in charge of maintaining that code.

Not surprisingly, Facebook has really focused on shifting its audience to mobile and the above is in accord with that. However, don’t sleep on desktop just yet, if these stats are to be believed.

2. Just kidding, desktop is dead


You read that correctly, a whopping 20 people saw my ad on the Desktop News Feed. What is going on here? Everyday when I get coffee, I see scores of hipsters working on their Macbook Airs and their regular Macbooks and a half a person using a Chromebook. Presumably a good percentage of those individuals use Facebook, so why aren’t they being served any Desktop News Feed ads?

I can only conclude that Facebook has secretly rolled out a premium desktop product that has no ads, but because everyone knows that desktop is so last week, they are too embarrassed to actually use it, and instead take out their phone under the table to look at Facebook. Or, because Wall Street is so obsessed with “mobile revenue,” Facebook is just giving the Street what they want, and who cares if its desktop revenue is not actually growing anymore. That’s a platform used by losers and Facebook doesn’t want loser dollars.

3. Android is an unstoppable ad-swallowing monster

Mobile breakdown

With iOS and Android users about even in terms of Facebook usage, you would think that my ad would be placed equally on both platforms, right?


91% of the impressions were on Android, with a scant 6% on iPhone and less than 1% on iPad, which got its butt kicked by “Other,” i.e. Windows Phone, which only Steve Ballmer uses.

And 34 out of 36 clicks occurred on Android, with iPhone accounting for a whole two clicks at a cost of $1.11 per click! I know iPhone users like to think of themselves as “premium” consumers (especially the ones with the gold-plated version), but I don’t have the kind of cash to throw around to get these rich a**holes to click on my ad for a free story. So what is going on here?

Did I accidentally click on the “Target all platforms — just kidding, only show on Android” button when I created the campaign? Or is this Facebook’s way of prodding me to run separate campaigns on iOS and Android devices so I have to give them more money?

Or maybe it’s because Android users might have a higher click rate (which is what I optimized for), so why not show the ad to people more likely to click on it? That makes sense, but why would Facebook serve the ad only to Android users when I’m pretty sure people with iPhones also have fingers with which they can click on ads?

I’m just spitballing here, but it’s probably because Facebook clandestinely owns thousands of click farms in Bangladesh that employ people to use cheap Android phones that have been spoofed to look like they are running on U.S. cellular networks to click on the ads that Facebook is selling. And although Android users apparently have a higher click rate than iOS users, they are statistically much less likely to pay for apps.

So wouldn’t it be funny if Facebook decided to only serve my ad to people who are more likely to click on it but extremely unlikely to actually download what’s being advertised? No, it wouldn’t.

4. Women are three times less likely to be served mobile ads targeted at people who like fantasy and science fiction


My hot take on this discrepancy is that there is a severe gender gap in science fiction and fantasy fandom. Should I abandon my potential female fans because there are less of them? Absolutely! Why? Because 0.47% of men who saw the ad clicked on it, compared to 0.32% of women. That’s 0.15% less clicking!

Women who are science fiction and fantasy fans: if you don’t want to let the men have all the fun that comes with having to scroll past intrusive ads before you can get to the Facebook posts you actually want to read, then start clicking ASAP!


At the end of the ad campaign, here were my results:

  • 8,112 people reached over a five-day period (1,622 people/day)
  • 36 clicks, which is a 0.44% click through rate (industry average for publishing: 0.79%)
  • Cost per click: $0.83 (industry average for publishing: $0.22)
  • Nine total downloads while the ad was running

So my ad under-performed by half using my completely unrealistic set of assumptions, and my targeted audience probably needed a lot of tinkering.

Do I know more about my audience now at the end of the ad campaign than at the start?


For all I know, my perfect fan is a 25–34 year-old woman who has an iPhone, likes Battlestar Galactica, but only looks at Facebook on her work computer.

Would I have been better served by spending my $30 on an overpriced cheeseburger or milkshake (seriously people, they are charging almost $30 for milkshakes in New York City that you have to wait on line for hours to get)?


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