Facebook on Monday announced Atlas, a rebuilt ad platform that gives marketers access to its vast troves of user data and helps them direct highly targeted ads across the Web.
“Atlas delivers people-based marketing, helping marketers reach real people across devices, platforms and publishers,” explained Erik Johnson, head of the new Facebook service. “By doing this, marketers can easily solve the cross-device problem through targeting, serving and measuring across devices.”
A shoe advertiser interested in reaching college-age women with ads for winter boots, for example, could use Atlas to identify millions of such users and show each of them ads not just on Facebook but across multiple apps and websites.
With built-in targeting and measurement capabilities, Atlas can also connect online campaigns with offline sales to help marketers assess the effectiveness of their ads, Johnson noted.
Pepsi and Intel are among the first companies testing the new platform. Instagram, meanwhile, is now Atlas-enabled to both measure and verify ad impressions, Johnson said.
Atlas is “a natural next step for Facebook,” Paul Gillin, blogger, podcaster and author of Attack of the Customers, told the E-Commerce Times.
“It has acquired deep insight on its members, and the new analytics tools make it possible to create much richer user profiles than was possible just a couple of years ago,” Gillin explained. “It’s a natural next step to try to monetize this outside of the walled garden.”
The move is also “clearly a mobile play, which is Facebook’s strength,” he added. “When someone is logged into Facebook, the service can see what other apps they are using and place messages there.”
Google offers similar capabilities, but its audience size isn’t nearly as vast as Facebook’s is, Gillin asserted. “Last I checked, there were about half as many people with Google profiles as there were with Facebook profiles.”
Atlas is widely viewed as a direct attack on Google’s longstanding dominance of Internet advertising.
The digital advertising market is worth more than US$100 billion annually, and thus far Google has dominated that market “to the tune of $50 billion each year” with its contextual advertising service, marketing and social media expert Lon Safko told the E-Commerce Times.
Now, however, with Facebook’s immense database of 1.3 billion users — their profiles, their status updates, their likes and dislikes — the company can not only deliver better contextual ads, but it can do that on a precise and personal level to everyone on the Internet, without the need for intrusive and often-blocked cookies, Safko said.
“This means that anywhere any of us go online with any device — from a desktop computer to a smartphone — advertising can be directed individually to each of us, offering just the right product or service at the very moment we are ready to purchase,” he explained. “This type of hyper-targeted contextual advertising will have the highest conversion rate of any advertising we have ever seen.”
Even before this move, Facebook was already the second-largest digital advertiser in the world, Safko concluded. “The only competitive edge Google has is most of the worldwide search traffic, which will not be enough to win this digital advertising battle of the Titans.”
Breakthrough for Marketers
Although Facebook hasn’t revealed the precise details of its targeting and measurement approaches, “this does represent a breakthrough in theory for marketers, with better audience targeting and cross-device and even offline measurement,” agreed Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy and insights for the Local Search Association.
“Facebook is solving the major challenge facing advertisers today: targeting and attribution in a multiplatform world,” Sterling told the E-Commerce Times.
Users, however, may be less enthusiastic.
“Users, to the extent they know and understand Atlas, may be uncomfortable with Facebook data being utilized to target them across the Web,” Sterling warned.
“The company says this is all done anonymously and on an aggregated audience basis,” he noted. “Yet privacy advocates will likely still sound alarms, and that may make ‘ordinary people’ uncomfortable.”
Moreover, if Facebook tries to bring the service to Europe, “regulators will almost certainly ask for user disclosures and opt-out capabilities,” he predicted.
Perpetual Privacy Anxiety
“There will be the usual round of wailing about privacy concerns,” Gillin agreed, “but history has shown us that most people are willing to trade off privacy for convenience and value, as long as the privacy trade-off isn’t too invasive.
“All the social networks aspire to being advertising networks,” he added, “and this should put Facebook in front of the pack.”