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360i Report: Facebook Relaunches Atlas

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In a move to extend the reach and targeting capabilities of its advertising solutions, Facebook has announced the re-launch of Atlas, the company’s ad servicing arm that was acquired from Microsoft in 2013. The new Atlas will empower marketers to serve highly-targeted ads to Facebook’s 1.3 billion users beyond the Facebook environment itself – across a much wider slate of publisher sites and mobile apps. The performance of these ads will be measured and tracked across desktop and mobile devices.

The new Atlas will shake up the online advertising industry because it combines the massive reach of Facebook with the platform’s wealth of data and unparalleled targeting capabilities, along with the ability to track performance across devices. The benefit to marketers is the ability to reach people at scale with the precision and measurement necessary to attain optimal ROI. As is the case with any major platform update, advertisers should remain cognizant of how the update could stand to impact user behavior, especially in light of growing Internet privacy concerns.

Marketer Implications

Facebook’s re-launch of Atlas will influence how advertisers approach media targeting and ad measurement (especially when it comes to mobile) – and it will also have extended impact on the online advertising landscape in general, perhaps raising CPMs for mobile ads as their value becomes more accurately attributed.

Facebook has built a next era media targeting model, but other players might not be far behind.
Atlas can now serve display, video and mobile ads nearly everywhere that Google can, granting the world’s largest social network a reach that better competes with the world’s leading display platform. For example, a CPG marketer on Facebook will soon be able to leverage Atlas to serve product announcements, promotions and the like to highly targeted audience segments across the web (e.g. age, location, gender and passions – determined by existing “Likes”).

Atlas’ new capability works across thousands of sites and mobile apps where Facebook has partnerships, but this model is not without its limitations. Moreover, marketers will be eager to learn more about the freshness of data leveraged in Atlas targeting (e.g. recency of profile updates and other actions) – and whether they can use public post data to inform ads elsewhere.

Advertisers will be better able to measure ad performance across devices – a key move in the platform’s effort to grow and expand its mobile capabilities.
Per Facebook, “Atlas can now connect online campaigns to actual offline sales,” which would help marketers measure the true impact of their media dollars when it comes to driving reach and sales. Atlas will also be used to track and verify impressions within the Facebook-owned Instagram platform.

Marketers will be especially interested in Atlas’ ability to address current challenges pertaining to mobile measurement. Where cookie-based tracking methods fail, Facebook will seemingly have the ability to marry the Atlas cookie to its own Facebook ID, allowing advertisers to track conversions across devices. This ID would strip out all but the most basic information on a user to help tailor consumer experiences with personalization – and, of course, track the effectiveness of that personalization.

That aside, it is not yet clear if Atlas will have multi-touch measurement capability. The ability to analyze weighted assist values across devices would be a welcome feature for advertisers; if missing, Atlas’ potential would be somewhat limited from an analytics perspective. Moreover, while Atlas advertisers can import data to serve and track campaigns, they cannot isolate and port cross-device user profiles to other platforms, or to sites where Facebook does not have partnerships. This presents a challenge for marketers accustomed to aggregating consumer data across various touch-points.

Reverberations from the new Atlas will likely be felt across the online advertising space.
When the world’s largest social network makes a major product announcement, marketers will almost always listen. The new Atlas marks a unique situation in which Facebook is making a concerted move to capture more online media dollars by leveraging its core strengths (targeting and reach), with the promise of a growing display advertising market. Per CNET, display advertising is on pace to become a $140 billion market this year.

Google currently dominates the space (32 percent of spend in 2013) with Facebook occupying the second spot at a diminutive 5.8 percent (Source: eMarketer). While difficult to predict Atlas’ impact on these figures moving forward, advertisers should be prepared for Facebook’s potential to reclaim a growing share of direct response media dollars – especially given Facebook’s mobile advantage. Moreover, assuming mass adoption of this tracking method, the value of mobile ad placements could rise due to increased competition and sub-segment scarcity.

Next Steps for Marketers

Since Facebook’s updates to Atlas are still fresh, marketers should follow updates as they come and consider testing the new features, especially for mobile campaigns where the barrier to entry is relatively low given the current pricing of Facebook’s mobile ad placements.

  • Revaluate your channel mix and consider testing with Facebook Atlas. Marketers should test this new tracking method early in order to develop a more holistic understanding of the consumer journey across channels and devices. Run tests to identify patterns among your audience in general, or within certain audience segments.
  • Follow closely as details emerge around a rumored Facebook Demand-Side Platform (DSP). Though hinted at in early media reports, it is unclear whether the Atlas news will bring about a Facebook DSP, which would certainly make waves among programmatic circles.
  • Further, the likely creation of a Facebook Data Management Platform (DMP) would help advertisers combine their own transactional data with people who have seen their ads. Hints of such a DMP are evident in Facebook’s partnership with Datalogix.
  • Monitor collateral impact within the third-party measurement landscape. Advertisers using tracking companies such as Drawbridge and Tapad should retest for value props against Facebook tracking.
  • Brace for more change ahead. Marketers should continue to monitor the space for retaliatory moves from the likes of Yahoo!, Amazon and especially Google – each of which are investing in developing their own online advertising products. In addition, marketers will want to keep tabs on potential partnerships between Facebook and technology platforms, as well as a potential evolution to Facebook Exchange (FBX). Currently, advertisers cannot serve ads programmatically using Facebook user profile data.

While Facebook has generated tremendous industry buzz around the branding capabilities of its ad products over the past several months, this update to Atlas underscores the true direct response focus of the company’s ad model. Improvements to both targeting and measurement will solidify Facebook as an ROI-driving platform.

For more insights into Facebook’s relaunch of Atlas, please contact your 360i Strategic Advisor.

Report by Shivan Durbal, Media Director at 360i, with David Rollo, VP, Group Media Director; Kolin Kleveno, VP of Programmatic Advertising; Amy Peterman, Director, Head of Paid Social Practice; and Doug Whitehead; Director of Ad Operations.

Cover photo via TechTimes