Facebook’s Atlas to Offer Advertisers New Targeting, Tracking Opportunities

Facebook announced at Advertising Week the relaunch of its Atlas ad server product — and with good reason. If Atlas is successful, it could have major repercussions for online advertising.

Atlas’ Targeting & Tracking Capabilities
Like other ad servers, Atlas allows brands and their agencies to manage, execute and measure campaigns across a wide variety of sites. Unlike other ad servers, Atlas is backed by the tremendous amounts of data Facebook collects on its more than 1.3 billion users. Atlas also takes advantage of the fact that each of those users has a unique Facebook ID — this allows the same ad to be served to the same user regardless of what device she’s using. It’s worth noting that brands do not purchase ads on Facebook itself through Atlas.

In addition to its precise targeting capabilities, Atlas provides tracking functionality it claims is far superior to that of the ubiquitous cookie. Since it works using unique Facebook IDs, Atlas tracks consumers across devices — including desktops, tablets and smartphones. It also works in the offline world, if a consumer gives a retailer her email address when she purchases a product she originally saw an ad for online.

This means Atlas lets marketers track consumers through the entire purchase process. Let’s look at a simplified example of how this works.

  • Using his smartphone, Chris Consumer checks his news feed. He spends several minutes liking and commenting.
  • Chris’s truck needs new tires, so he then uses his smartphone browser to visit TireReviews.com and reads reviews on multiple brands of tires.
  • A company called Tread Best Tires purchases ads through Atlas. TireReviews.com is one of the sites in Atlas’ network, so Chris is served an ad for Tread Best.
  • Later that day, Chris logs into Facebook on his desktop to check his news feed.
  • Still on his desktop, he then checks tire prices on a retailer’s site. He is served another ad for Tread Best and decides to check the price of its products.
  • Chris decides to purchase Tread Best tires. When he gives the retailer his email address at checkout, it’s connected to his Facebook account and the mobile and desktop ads he saw earlier.

Tread Best sees the entire process Chris went through to research and purchase its brand of tires. Although the consumer and brand are theoretical, the scenario it presents is very real.

“Advertisers using Atlas have a clearer picture of which ads convert to purchase and which don’t.”

Bad News for Google, Good News for Advertisers
Atlas’ main competitor, Google, should be worried for two reasons. First, Facebook has information on 1.3 billion people’s families, friends, favorites things, employers and schools. Even though millions of consumers have Gmail and Google Plus accounts, it simply can’t match the scope of data collected by Facebook. Second, Google uses the aforementioned cookies for tracking. Despite their widespread use, cookies are only 74 percent effective at tracking, and they don’t work across all mobile platforms.

Advertisers and their agencies, however, should take a much different view of Facebook’s new ad server. Atlas offers the most precise targeting and tracking available, and Google will push to improve its own capabilities to stay competitive. There’s also the distinct possibility of a price war between Google and Atlas, which will benefit the buyer. Finally, depending on the success of Atlas, other players (e.g., Amazon) may jump into the ad server game, providing brands even more options for data-driven digital advertising.

Facebook is currently offering Atlas to a select group of advertisers. But marketers would be wise to stay up to date and be ready to move when it is offered to a broader range of brands.

Lindsay Pullins also contributed to this story.

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Melissa Booth
Melissa Booth

I believe good content either informs or entertains. Great content does both. As Managing Editor for Media is Power and Empower MediaMarketing, I strive to make sure everything here hits that sweet spot as closely as possible. I've spent a decade-plus in the marketing industry and like to think I've developed a taste for content of all types -- good, great and otherwise.