Dangerous Facebook Ads Bug Results In Unauthorized Media Spend

[11/8 Update: We have received a refund from Facebook: 11/9, On one 4 year old account, the spend cap worked today, testing additional accounts] The Facebook Ads application is throwing what seems to be a bug or a misleading change in feature behavior that allows accounts to exceed the Account Spend limit setting. AIMCLEAR experienced overspend situations twice in the last 10 days. There also seem to be contradictions in various places throughout FB’s help screens. There are two explanations as to how the Account Spend limit feature works.

In reality you can’t ever adjust an Account Spend limit number in the UI and consider it a “Absolute” cap.  This is described in detail below. We’re not sure what’s more disturbing, the change in spend cap behavior or the feature description contradictions.

Either way, get the word out to your fellow marketers: Facebook Account Spend limits may not work as we have understood them to function. You may overpay FB. Depending on the size of the account, this can be an expensive error.

What Is A Spend Limit & Why Is It Important?
Most every paid marketing channel provides marketers with spend-limit tools which are essential for managing budgets.  Spend limits, AKA “Caps,” regulate the flow of money spent.  Facebook Ads provides daily and account-wide spend caps. Daily spend limit provided at the individual ad level seems to be working as always. The issue applies to the Account Spend limit. When Account Spend mechanisms fail or perform differently, an ad serving application can overspend marketers’ designated media budgets.

Change & Contradictions
Here’s how the behavior of the FB Ads Account Spend limit appears to have changed. Account Spend limit has always acted as described in the user interface help bubble-the place where marketers actually enter the spend limit amount. Facebook tells us there that the Account Spend is absolute and can be reset at any time. The bubble says when your account reaches “this limit” ads will be paused.

It seems pretty straight forward, right? As described, the left hand box shows what was spent and the right box is “this limit.”  That’s how the spend cap has always worked for us. It’s a pretty basic concept.

This functionality now seems to be contradicted in FB’s help section. We do not know when this language was posted, but what is described there is not the way Account Spend limits have worked for us previously or as described currently in the help inline bubble. In fact it has worked so well that it’s one of the last worries an account manager used to have here.

What? If this is true, then the “?” help in the user interface where marketers enter spending limits is deceptive as to how spend limits actually work.

If you change your spend cap to 200K when you are already at $195,122.96 does this mean Facebook can  spend $395,122.96?  Is that what $195,122.96 of $200,000 means? You mean the $200K is not an absolute cap?

The Back Story
One of our clients incurred a spend overage last weekend because the Facebook Ads Account Spend limit feature did not halt expenditures once the limit was reached as described in the inline help bubble. We reported it to Facebook right away.

AIMCLEAR runs daily weekday hand checks of every account.  We automate with spend limits to avoid weekend overages.

  • On Thursday we checked one of the accounts we manage, and set the Account Spend limit, preparing for the weekend.
  • On Friday morning we checked as usual, and the account in question was still hundreds below the spend limit. All good. Spend limit set. Have a nice weekend.
  • As we have countless times before, we trusted the spend limit (over the weekend) to halt the account when the limit was reached.

Imagine our surprise on Monday morning to discover that the account kept on spending over the cap, spending hundreds of dollars. Look below at the red box. Clearly the account was allowed to spend past the $11,053.65 we authorized. Had this been a larger account, the results would have been disastrous. Imagine another zero and do the math. We’re lucky this account is relatively small.

Facebook says the Account Spend feature stops ads within 15 minutes. The 15 minutes is not the issue here. This account spent for 2 more days over the weekend.

We contacted Facebook last Monday morning, flagging the first instance.  They expressed concern and asked us not to quote them for this blog post. Now it is over a week later and we have no explanation other than Facebook telling us it’s escalated. Facebook Global Marketing Solutions Team has not followed with us for 5 days as of this writing. We think the right thing to do is for Facebook to refund any advertisers whose Account Spend limit was exceeded.  The bottom line is that Facebook Ads native spend cap can’t be trusted as before.

Anyway, we were just about to dismiss this as a one-off and then it happened again, to a totally different account…



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