Facebook’s Atlas Puts DoubleClick on Notice: People-Based Advertising is Here

by Justin Kistner on Oct 21, 2014

Mixpo - People Based Advertising

Facebook’s re-release of Atlas is a game changer for marketers.

The most significant part of the announcement is that Atlas will leverage Facebook identity for targeting and measurement. If those seven words don’t blow your mind, then please read on.

The old way of targeting is gone

For over two decades, display advertising has been primarily sold as flat rate inventory or by applying cookie data to real-time bidding.

Buying flat rate inventory typically means something like buying a premium placement for a set period of time, e.g. the home page of Yahoo! for a day. No matter who shows up, your ad is served.

Advertisers were convinced to buy the media based on demographic data about the typical visitors to the site. It’s a crude form of targeting because

A) there is no guarantee that the actual traffic is what the past data says it is, and…
B) just because they have soccer moms visiting the site, doesn’t mean they actually want to buy your product.

Cookie-based targeting gave rise to more effective forms of ad serving, such as retargeting and lookalike audiences.

These targeting methods attempted to separate the notion of a target audience from the sites they happen to be visiting by allowing the targeted ad content to follow them across different ad inventory within the publisher’s network.

Then, along came mobile…

Which has dramatically undermined the whole cookie-based targeting game in the space of a few years.

Now, a user’s journey is very likely to involve multiple devices. People commonly switch between their phone, tablet, home computer, and work computer.

That means a person’s behavior can be split between four or more cookies that have no way of knowing they represent the same person. Sure there are companies that try to match cookies across devices, but they are unreliable and unstable methods that make little to no impact on overall efficiency.

So why does that matter to advertisers?

In a word: waste.

If a brand wants to reach their target audience with a frequency of 4 times per month, historically they could only use cookies to manage frequency. But, if a person could be represented by 4 or more cookies, they could actually be reaching a person 16 times or more.

That’s a huge amount of waste when each impression costs money.

The rise of people-based advertising

Facebook Atlas BenefitsPeople-based targeting resolves the waste problem.

Facebook is able to deliver people-based targeting because their users log into Facebook on all of their devices. That means Facebook has a unique user ID that they can use to attribute views and clicks on any site or app back to a single person across all of their devices.

If a person sees an ad on Facebook on their phone, then sees an Atlas ad on their tablet, then later that person visits the advertiser website from their laptop and makes a purchase; Facebook can report on that entire journey.

That has never been possible in the history of the Internet and no one else is offering that capability today.

Facebook is also able to provide accurate view-through attribution, even on mobile.

This is because they serve the ads, so they know who sees them, even if cookies can’t be dropped in a mobile app. This is a huge gaping hole for companies like DoubleClick (Google) who can’t provide view-through reporting on Facebook (or Twitter or other ads served in mobile apps).

Oh, and Facebook will let you change your attribution window from 1 to 7 to 28 days on the fly; and the data will update retroactively.

These are the kinds of capabilities we used to fantasize about in web analytics.

What about in-store purchases?

Since we’re talking about things that used to be fantasy, we have to touch on the offline attribution capabilities. As Facebook notes on its site, 94% of retail purchases still happen in-store.

Advertisers can now leverage the fact that Atlas is built on Facebook identities to compare the people who purchased with those who were exposed to their ads.

Again, something that has never been possible before.

Using Custom Audiences Outside Facebook

But, the power of Atlas goes beyond reporting. You can also target people using Custom Audiences. That means you can upload a list of phone numbers, email addresses, etc., and now reach those specific people with ads.

While that capability has been available within the Facebook ecosystem for years now, it has never been available for display ads across other sites and apps.

And, since we’re targeting people, not cookies, if you want to retarget someone who saw your Atlas ad on a laptop with an ad on Facebook on their phone, advertisers can do that no problem.

Cross-device retargeting used to be the kind of thing that was discussed in the same breath as unicorns and Santa Claus. Now, it’s here.

Future implications

Facebook Atlas

From an advertiser’s perspective, the bottom line on the re-release of Atlas is: Better attribution and targeting means better ROI.

It also means that buying media on display just got a whole lot simpler. With Atlas, advertisers have a single source for their inventory, targeting, reporting, bidding, and budgeting.

Since we’re dealing with authenticated user IDs from Facebook, it also means that fraud is much easier to detect and prevent, an issue that has been plaguing the display industry for years.

Who can sell Atlas?

From an ad tech vendor or agency perspective, Atlas represents a true sea change in display advertising. Every Preferred Marketing Developer (PMD) in Facebook’s Ads category are now in the display business, which means a flood of new business for PMDs and a threat to the market dominance of traditional display media buying companies.

It also means that companies that are heavily invested in technology that sits between the buy side and sell side are now in a difficult position.

On the one hand, the sea change isn’t going to happen overnight. It will appear to be business as usual for some time, and denial about the significance of the change will run rampant.

But be warned, media buyers and ad tech vendors who don’t embrace people-based advertising now will give up their market share to the top Facebook PMDs, who are now poised to apply their more efficient media buying tech and tactics to display.

A new industry standard

Make no mistake that Twitter and then Google will follow this announcement with their own people-based networks.

They have the logged in users, and they will have no choice if they want to compete with the ROI advertisers are going to see from their Facebook/Atlas ads.

Twitter already has MoPub and are expected to introduce Twitter targeting and measurement. Google has a lot of logged in users that it could leverage for targeting and measurement on DoubleClick. That means the crazy Lumascapes of middle men, vendors, and analysts in display will begin to thin out, and fast.

Atlas represents another step forward towards a more personalized web, and is an example of how technology is enabling us to fully realize the power of data.

For advertisers, publishers and Ad Tech companies: if the many “new” and “never before” statements in this article don’t have you convinced that Atlas is going to make some big waves, than you might want to start looking for some higher ground to retreat to.

Post Author

Justin Kistner is author of the 2013 Social Rich Media Benchmark Report and VP of Strategy at ShopIgniter, recently acquired by Mixpo. Justin has been a well-renowned leader in social marketing strategy for over ten years with leadership roles at...

  • Casey_Cornett

    Great blog, Justin. I’m going to write about it (and obviously source you/this) on Linkedin. FYI, your LI button link is broken.

  • treb072410

    Thanks for sharing Justin, I really had a great read..

  • Nino Ciappina

    Great post. Cookies are fundamentally flawed as they don’t track users across different devices but they’ve provided a noble service over the last several years.