Facebook announced Friday it is winding down the ad server that sits within the Atlas ad tech platform it acquired from Microsoft in 2013.
The news comes two months after Business Insider revealed Facebook had shifted Atlas from its ad tech division into its “marketing sciences group,” which focuses on measurement and analytics.
Facebook’s purchase of Atlas was once seen as a way Facebook could take on Google DoubleClick’s dominance of the display ad market. At one point, Facebook was even working on a demand-side platform (DSP) — software that lets advertisers buy online ads programmatically — but it pulled the project, blaming bad-quality inventory on the open web.
Now Atlas is only about measurement. It won’t be laying off any staff but it will be turning off its ad server, which may see it lose a small amount of customers.
Atlas offers advertisers a measurement tag to track users as they cross around the web and apps and from one device to another. Atlas’ big sell is the same as Facebook’s positioning to advertisers: “People-based marketing.”
The reason Atlas is so good at people-based marketing is because Facebook’s users often log into the site using different devices — giving it reliable first-party data rather than relying on cookies like other ad platforms have to.
Atlas can let advertisers know if someone who saw an ad for a product on one device went on to buy it on another. It can give advertisers a more accurate measure of the total reach of their digital ad campaigns (rather than leaving in duplicate users who may have seen the same ad multiple times). And the insights from Atlas can be used to discover new audiences marketers may not have previously known were interested in their products.
Speaking to Business Insider, Atlas global head of sales Damian Burns said 300 advertisers have used Atlas for measurement campaigns over the past 18 months.
Burns said: “Throughout its lifespan, the focus of Atlas has been very loud around its measurement capabilities and ad serving was the thinner end of the wedge, if you will. It’s a very logical progression. The measurement capabilities are powerful, increasingly so, and we are seeing a lot of traction there … all the measurement capabilities that are integral to the ad server are also available outside the ad server. You can do everything you are looking to do without it. You have pixels on pages and ads that enable us to do the same counting but also apply people-based measurement to all the ads that run.”
He explained that having the ad server actually presented a challenge to Atlas when it was trying to sell the product to advertisers early on as switching ad servers is usually a “gnarly” technical experience that takes time to do.
Burns said: “A lot of advertisers initially thought you had to go through the rigmarole of upending your existing ad server and implementing a new ad server [in order to get on board with Atlas].”
Nevertheless, the decision to shut off the ad server completely was “not a decision we took lightly,” according to Burns.
“This is a meaningful change for those impacted on the ad server side and we are very sympathetic to their situation. A lot of support will be given to them in terms of whatever they need,” Burns said, adding that while support will be offered, Atlas will not be trying to influence clients’ decisions as to which alternative ad servers to use.
Burns explained Facebook has big ambitions for Atlas.
“We do believe there is a better way to measure, otherwise we wouldn’t be here doing this, building products like this, or fusing the marketing science organisation to put the best brands in the industry [ — the division partners with measurement companies like Nielsen, Integral Ad Science, and Moat — ] alongside this tech and data, and making them available to the world’s advertisers to reap the benefits,” Burns said.
“It’s about focusing on business outcomes, not on properties like clicks that have had too high a share of voice in the industry to date,” he added.
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