Facebook has polished up and relaunched Atlas, the ad serving platform it bought from Microsoft for $100m in February last year. The new Atlas will use Facebook's own targeting options, but serve ads on sites and apps outside its own properties.
Facebook takes on Google
Facebook's strategic decision to extend the reach of its ads beyond its own platform is a major change in the social network’s strategy. Until recently, the firm could only serve ads inside Facebook, meaning it had to work hard to lure all those eyeballs to its own service. With the new Atlas, the company can track and target users outside its own walls for the first time, placing it in direct competition with Google Display Network.
With the new Atlas, Facebook can track and target users outside its own walls for the first time, placing it in direct competition with Google Display Network.
Tracking users on moble
By making use of user IDs, the new Atlas can rely on people-oriented data rather than cookie data for targeting and analytics. Since cookies largely don't work on mobile, and there is growing regulatory opposition to their use, Atlas provides a viable alternative to identify, track and target consumers who hop between devices, platforms, devices and publishers through their day.
Facebook also claims that serving ads through Atlas will enable sequential messaging across devices and multi-touch point attribution.
Still, Facebook will need to tread carefully on the privacy front. Though Atlas is technically privacy compliant, since users sign in and agree to Facebook's privacy policies, Facebook will need to manage its communication around the new platform. As per its previous attempts at targeting, the company might face a privacy backlash from consumers and regulators who are yet to have their say on the new model.
Facebook has cultivated a walled garden
Ironically, while Facebook’s people-based targeting promises to break down the silo between devices by allowing cross-device targeting and attribution, it has created a new closed ecosystem based on a unique Facebook user ID, similar to the walled gardens of Apple, Amazon and Google.
Understandably, Google, Amazon and Facebook all want to leverage their user data to play a bigger role in the broader online advertising space. And while that's very interesting to advertisers, there will be restrictions around mashing up Facebook’s cross-device data with first and third party data housed within a brand's Data Management Platform (DMP) like Adobe, BlueKai or Acxiom. So while Atlas may be an effective way for delivering cross-screen ads, it will not be possible to integrate that device data with information from other services - a drawback for any brand looking to build up audience profiles across platforms and devices within its DMP.
It’s early days for the completely re-written Atlas but this space is changing rapidly
Atlas bolsters Facebook’s credibility in the broader online advertising space so we can be sure that it will enjoy significant investment from Facebook. There are already rumours circulating that Atlas will launch their own DSP in 2015, something which would have ramifications in the programmatic space. Furthermore, some are speculating Facebook may be working to create a DMP which would help advertisers bring together their own CRM and transactional data along with people who have seen their ads.
There is going to be a lot more change taking place within this space so it will be interesting to see how Amazon, Yahoo and Google respond to Facebook’s latest move.