Performics POV: Facebook Acquires Microsoft Atlas


BACKGROUND On February 28th, Facebook announced that it had agreed to acquire the Atlas Advertiser Suite from Microsoft, pending regulatory approval.  Atlas enables advertisers to buy and measure media across channels.  Facebook stressed that the acquisition will be an important step in helping advertisers achieve the goal of holistic, cross-channel measurement.  Facebook also stated that Atlas “will help advertisers close the loop and compare their Facebook campaigns to the rest of their ad spend across the web on desktop and mobile.”  Facebook plans to “substantially” invest in Atlas upon the acquisition. IMPLICATIONS for ADVERTISERS Opportunity to Accelerate Cross-Channel Participation At Performics, we’ve called 2013 “The Year of Activating Participation.”  For years, ad serving platforms, display networks, search engines and social networking sites have been collecting a massive volume of participant data.  However, activating this data across channels at scale, in real-time, has been a challenge.  Due to the lack of integrated cross-channel measurement capabilities, many advertisers have struggled to run complementary campaigns that exploit cross-channel synergies to drive participation.  Facebook’s acquisition of Atlas seeks to break down the silos between channels, giving advertisers more opportunity for cross-channel and cross-device measurement, including new opportunities to activate and integrate Facebook participant data into other online campaigns. Breaking Participant Data Free from Facebook Facebook has historically been a self-contained channel for advertisers.  In other words, data derived from Facebook’s users could only be leveraged to target, customize and optimize ads to those users on Facebook—a one-way use of data.  Now, Atlas gives advertisers new opportunities to engage participants off of Facebook.  Facebook used to be a one-site advertising network, which severely limited its revenue growth.  With the purchase of Atlas, Facebook is instantly a cross-web network, with all of Atlas’s publisher relationships already in place. This is the natural evolution of Facebook advertising.  Last summer, Facebook launched the Facebook Ad Exchange (FBX).  FBX leverages off-Facebook user data (browsing, searching, shopping cart activity) to serve customized ads to users on Facebook (e.g. subscribe to a service after browsing, book a flight after searching, buy a product after filling a cart).  Atlas will enable advertisers to essentially do the opposite—leverage on-Facebook participant data to serve highly customized ads off Facebook, across the web.  Furthermore, some advertisers have always wanted to leverage Facebook’s dataset without having to actually run ads on Facebook, and Atlas will enable this. The ability to break participant data free from Facebook and use it at scale could have significant implications for the display advertising landscape.  With Atlas, Facebook can now leverage its massive participant dataset to directly compete with Google’s DoubleClick across the entire web—with the goal of winning display advertising share from Google.  Additionally, the use of Facebook data differentiates Atlas from all other ad networks, which could bring more advertisers to Atlas.  According to eMarketer, Facebook is already close to overtaking Google’s display share (Facebook had 14.4% of the $15 billion 2012 U.S. display market vs. Google’s 15.4%).  Atlas could help push Facebook ahead in 2013. Atlas-Facebook Integration Microsoft stated that it is selling Atlas because it thinks that Atlas can become a better product in Facebook’s hands.  Microsoft’s focus has turned to user-based web experiences, rather than ad technology tools.  This is good news for current Atlas clients, as Facebook will invest more in Atlas than Microsoft has.  Facebook has also indicated that it will work to maintain all existing Atlas client relationships, and it will focus on enhancing those relationships.  Facebook will solicit feedback on the current Atlas product in an effort to further develop the platform per client needs. Facebook and Microsoft have not indicated exactly how Atlas will change, except for the fact that Microsoft’s proprietary data, which is used in Atlas’s Audience Messaging Tool, will be discontinued upon finalization of the acquisition.  However, Facebook will retain the Audience Messaging Tool—just not with Microsoft data.  Also of note, Microsoft has stated that Facebook will continue to keep Atlas neutral and unbiased towards all publishers. Privacy will also be a concern for some advertisers, who are now wondering if Facebook will have access to their data.  Neither Facebook nor Microsoft have communicated a specific plan around privacy, but Microsoft has stated:   “Facebook is focused on serving Atlas’s existing customers, enabling them to better measure the ads they place, and investing in the platform.  Additionally, they have always been committed to and focused on transparency and control.  Facebook will continue to adhere to those principles and will carefully examine the privacy implications of how it operates Atlas.” The deal is contingent upon regulatory approval and other administrative requirements.  In the meantime, it will be business as usual for existing campaigns on Atlas, and Atlas will continue to release product enhancements and features as planned.  When the deal closes, Performics will provide you with more specific information around Facebook-Atlas best practices.


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