Facebook’s relaunch of Atlas – It’s kind of a big deal

Posted by IAB Australia On December 15, 2014

On the 29th September Facebook breathlessly announced the launch of the new Atlas. In the following few days there were many articles extolling how this platform was going to transform and deliver people-based targeting in online and mobile media. It seems like some of these projections may have been made under the hazy influence of a scotch induced hangover. It’s now a good time for a more sober reflection on what this means and what the new Facebook-powered Atlas can offer advertisers.

Adservers have been using cookies to track and report on online advertising for over 10 years. They are the critical item that links exposure to advertising to subsequent actions and are used to optimise creative, report reach and frequency as well as record sales and conversions driven from advertising. The problem is they don’t do that very well. The first problem is that the total number of cookies totally outstrips the number of people using the internet in Australia. Every month Nielsen record over 120 million cookies online and the first point in online measurement is to remember that cookies don’t equal people. The second, and arguably more significant, problem is that cookies don’t reliably work on mobile. Both iOS and Android treat cookies differently and accept and delete them in different ways. As more and more internet use moves to these devices then cookies become more and more ineffective.

To effectively track and report digital advertising today what we need are tools that can consistently identify people across mobile devices and, further to this, recognise the same people when they are using a desktop pc and when they are using a mobile device.

Facebook has what is genuinely the first persistent login or ID that people use across multiple device types, multiple times of day where people have provided what are, likely to be, accurate records of their age and gender. Google has been trying to create the same with their unified Google login for all products, but while Google have an amazing insight into what you’re interested in they don’t have the same level of insight as Facebook do into who you are.

As well as Facebook knowing who you are, they understand a great deal about what you like and where you go online. Facebook is currently over 30 percent of the time people spend on the internet, and the eight hours per week that the average person spends on Facebook today is more than the seven hours per week they spent on the entire internet in 2003 – don’t act like you’re not impressed. Facebook also gains insight into what people are doing across many other websites across the internet. Whenever a website contains a Facebook “like” button, and over 33 percent of the top 1,000 sites by traffic do, Facebook is notified whenever a logged in user visits the page. This is the reason that the Facebook log-out button is hidden away in menus; when you log out their ability to track you across the internet is reduced.

It’s this ability to recognise people across mobile and pc devices and across multiple websites that will give Atlas the ability to provide the “people-based targeting” they have announced. Atlas will be able to report campaign reach delivery across both mobile and desktop campaigns as well as identify when someone has, for example, seen an ad on a mobile device and made a purchase on a pc.

Facebook will also enable Atlas to report campaigns beyond age and gender and tap into the Facebook information that is generated based on people’s behaviours on their platform and across the web.

Some commentators have talked about Atlas becoming a demand side platform (DSP) and allowing people to buy advertising targeted only to people based on Facebook targeting. To be clear, this isn’t possible today through Atlas, it is possible within mobile apps through Facebook’s Audience Network. However, everyone does believe this is on the roadmap for Facebook and Atlas.

With the level of accuracy Facebook has in its geo and demo targeting as well as the depth of other behavioural targeting options, this will be a significant advantage for Facebook, this will be the opportunity that allows them to challenge Google’s dominance in display advertising across the internet. As Larry Page could be saying, “Heck, I’m not even mad; that’s amazing.”

IAB Australia

IAB Australia is the peak trade association for online advertising in Australia. As one of over 43 IAB offices globally and with a rapidly growing membership, the role of the IAB is to support sustainable and diverse investment in digital advertising across all platforms in Australia.