Atlas -- Facebook's huge ad tech threat to Google -- told us about the big brands it has signed up

Damian burnsLinkedInAtlas global head of sales Damian Burns.

A year after Facebook relaunched the Atlas ad server and measurement platform it acquired from Microsoft in 2013, the ad platform has finally revealed some of the advertisers working with it.

Atlas is Facebook’s direct competitor to Google’s DoubleClick platform. It allows advertisers to use Facebook’s (anonymized) data about its users to target on non-Facebook apps and websites (on the Facebook Audience Network.)

Atlas’ big advantage is that it can match up users as they cross from one device to another — because people tend to log in to Facebook on their mobiles, desktops, and tablets. It means advertisers can target users across different devices, but also measure them across different devices too — so advertisers can determine if a user that saw a mobile ad went on to buy that product later on their desktop, for example.

Speaking exclusively to Business Insider, Atlas head of global sales Damian Burns, said the top 10 advertisers alone that work with the platform spend more than $US20 billion on advertising across all media.

He couldn’t reveal the names of all the advertisers in the top 10, or the total number working with Atlas, but he did provide names of 10 brands currently working with Atlas. They are:

Nestlé, Tommy Hilfiger, Microsoft, Ferrero, KLM, SolarCity, LiveNation, Monster, Estée Lauder, and Coca-Cola France.

Neither Burns nor Facebook could provide details about how much of an impact Atlas has had on Facebook’s revenue so far.

However, Burns, who joined Atlas nine months ago from Google, said the team was “proud” of what it had achieved so far.

“We have taken what was seen as a marketing cost — ad tech — and turned it into an investment,” Burns said. “And we haven’t seen anything yet in terms of how agencies and advertisers are going to use this kit. We will see use cases that we had not even imagined. That will get really interesting.”

Atlas is just getting started

Calling Atlas just an ad server “doesn’t do Atlas justice,” according to Burns, who thinks Atlas is currently only using 15-20% of its full functionality. Yan Gabay, from digital agency NetBooster, which works with Estée Lauder, recently described Atlas as “like using a Rolls Royce to go buy bread.”

Big brands so far have been interested in using Atlas to measure the audience their ads have reached and compare the audience reach they had been promised by other ad tech providers who use cookie-based identification compared with Atlas, which prides itself on “people-based marketing” (thanks to that all-important Facebook registration data.) Some competitors have been found to over-state their reach by up to 60% in some cases, Burns said.

Burns also revealed that Atlas has a device footprint — the potential audience advertisers can reach — of 950 million users. Those are users who it can confirm have logged into Facebook on more than one device. Facebook doesn’t give Atlas or advertisers data about those individual users, but advertisers can target specific audiences based on segments such as gender, age, and the people who have a higher propensity to engage with their content.

Other use cases have included “sequential storytelling,” serving an ad on one device, then serving another with different creative when a user switches to a different device. On the other hand, Atlas has also been used to reduce the frequency at which ads are served — as people switch devices they might see several of the same ads from the same advertiser, which can become annoying.

Elsewhere, LiveNation used Atlas to determine whether users shown an ad for Madonna’s upcoming tour on their smartphones later went on to buy tickets on their laptops. Meanwhile, Tommy Hilfiger used Atlas to determine whether people who saw its ads went on to buy in-store.

Atlas is reportedly readying the launch of a demand-side platform (DSP) in early 2016. DSPs are platforms that let advertisers buy online advertising in an automated — known as programmatic — way. When asked about the Atlas DSP, Burns said Atlas had no news to share at this time.

Facebook last made announcements about new Atlas partners in February. Back then it announced that customer relationship management agency Merkle and software company Mediaocean had come on board. They joined Publicis Groupe’s ad tech arm VivaKi, Havas, and launch partner Omnicom.

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