Facebook is rapidly scaling Atlas — the ad network that puts it in direct competition with Google’s DoubleClick — by opening up the ad tech platform to more businesses, bringing the total number of partners officially now on board to five.
Some sources say Atlas actually offers superior targeting to Google, making Facebook’s internet ad platform a huge potential threat to the search giant.
On Tuesday Atlas announced its latest round of partnerships: CRM (customer relationship management) agency Merkle and advertising services and software company Mediaocean. They join Publicis’ tech arm VivaKi, Havas and launch partner Omnicom.
In a press release announcing the Mediaocean and Merkle partnerships, Atlas’ marketing manager Nicole Maraschky says: “We’ll continue to build on this momentum with additional partnership announcements over the coming months.”
Facebook acquired the Atlas ad server from Microsoft in 2013 and relaunched it in October last year. Facebook touts Atlas as “people-based marketing.” It allows advertisers to use Facebook’s data about consumers to target them on non-Facebook websites and apps. Those ads aren’t Facebook ads, but they draw on Facebook’s knowledge of individuals in order to target them with advertising.
What makes Facebook Atlas even more useful to advertisers is that Atlas does not rely on cookies in order to target users with ads. Facebook links a phone’s unique identification number to a user’s Facebook account, so Atlas helps advertisers target users no matter which device they use. That, potentially, gives it the edge over rivals such as Google’s DoubleClick, although Google is working on a solution to overcome the ad targeting gap between mobile web, mobile apps, and desktop.
Ever since Facebook announced the roll out of new-look Atlas, Google has been making a number of defensive moves to protect itself against the threat to its DoubleClick business. One such move includes Google reportedly demanding that ad impressions bought on the DoubleClick Ad Exchange must be bought using DoubleClick Bid Manager. And in January Google stopped advertisers using third-party content verification services — like Integral Ad Science and Double Verify — across the Google Display Network.
James Collier, EMEA managing director at AdTruth, told Business Insider all these moves are a direct reaction to Atlas: “Google is under huge pressure right now from Atlas. There are five to six brands all trialling it. Atlas, through Facebook data, can tell you in post-campaign analysis whether the person that saw that ad was male or female, with certainty. Google can guess at best.”
Andy Monfried, CEO of independent data management platform Lotame, says the most recent update to restrict platforms like his running tracking cookies across the Display Network (unless the client also users Google’s demand-side platform) throws up challenges for the entire advertising industry.
He told us: “This is a perfect example of the conflict of interest that can emerge when a technology provider also manages media. The fact that Google is a technology company at heart, but also operates a sizable media business, is presenting challenges for many in the ecosystem: from brands, to publishers, to ad technology partners. With this change, Google is effectively restricting clients who want to use their own signals, their own events, and their own data when interacting and spending money on the Guardian Display Network.”
However, Steph Emmanoeul, general manager of connected customer marketing and mobile innovation agency Somo, thinks Google’s objective is less reactive and restrictive.
She told us: “Google’s objective is to prevent data leakage. Data ownership and the value of data overall is a very hot topic and needs to be addressed across the industry. In my opinion data ownership should always sit with the client.”
Away from Atlas, Facebook officially opened up its mobile ad network “Facebook Audience Network” to all advertisers back in October. The mobile advertising platform allows advertisers to extend their Facebook ad campaigns across a network of other mobile apps, using the social network’s targeting data. Facebook makes a huge amount of ad revenue on its site alone, but its future growth is also pinned on its ability to sell ads outside of the News Feed and right-hand rail.