Facebook Hopes Marketers Won’t Shrug at Atlas People-Tracking Ad Platform

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As Twitter aims to revolutionize commerce with its new “buy” button and Google continues to dominate online advertising, Facebook isn’t standing by. A new ad platform, Atlas, will be unveiled during Advertising Week in New York, pushing the concept of “people-based marketing” front and center.

A reconfigured version of the Atlas Advertiser Suite the social network bought from Microsoft last year, the pitch to marketers is improved targeting and measurement of ad buys across the web.

With cookies for targeting and tracking online ads a thing of the past, the Atlas ad network will show marketers which users have seen (or better yet, interacted with) their ads not only on Facebook but also on other websites and apps. “What Facebook is doing is potentially more powerful than what Google can currently do,” commented Publicis chief strategist Rishad Tobaccowala to the Wall Street Journal

“The biggest impact of this will be in mobile,” said a source familiar with Facebook’s plans to the WSJ. “People spend more time on mobile than on desktop, but marketers don’t spend there because cookies don’t work. This could finally enable us to spend more money in mobile.”[more]

Facebook is also pitching brand marketers on how Atlas can track and connect consumers’ offline and online behaviors. If a consumer purchases an item in-store and shares an email address at the checkout, Facebook can use that address to inform that retailer if, where and when that person saw the ad—provided the email address links to the customer’s Facebook account.

“A Facebook ID is the marketer’s Holy Grail: a persistent, high-fidelity ID for a consumer,” explained Antonio Garcia-Martinez, VP product, Nanigans, who previously worked on Facebook’s advertising technology products.

While Facebook users (already outraged by news of the site’s “mood experiment”) will no doubt be concerned at being tracked across the web, they must first have agreed to the lengthy TOS agreement that Facebook updated earlier this year, featuring advertising guidelines that permit the social network to track and gather data on users for ad purposes when they are not signed on to Facebook.

Instead of tracking cookies, Atlas uses Pixel tags embedded in Facebook’s “Like” and “Share” buttons that track and report back on users’ online actions. (Users can click the “x” or the “v” in the top-right corner of a Facebook ad and access “ad preferences” to see a list of the characteristics that Facebook is using to deliver targeted ads to them.)

It’s not only users that may be alarmed; the Wall Street Journal reports that retailers and publishers are also concerned at Facebook’s data tracking, and are starting to limit the amount of data they report back to Facebook.

What’s more, the new ad units follow a recent report that marketers (in light of the brands as publishers content marketing trend) are starting to favor their owned microsites and LinkedIn over Facebook, increasingly frustrated and “aware that they’re really just renting social media space on Facebook,” as Adweek puts it.

“Brands don’t own what happens on Facebook, and as organic reach has been absolutely eviscerated, they remain aware of that,” Forrester analyst Nate Elliott told Adweek. “Just changing one pixel can ruin the entire thing.” 

“Brands will always have more control over owned spaces than rented ones,” added Brooks Thomas, AT&T’s director of digital and social media. “By and large, I view owned spaces as the farm and rented spaces as the market where you sell the crops—you can personalize your stall, but you can’t design the market.”

A recent example of bypassing Facebook (except as a traffic-driver) the is EA Sports launch of Madden NFL 15 via a Giferator microsite. “It’s not about what platform I’m on anymore,” said Anthony Stevenson, EA Sports VP of global marketing and brand. “It’s can I cultivate shareworthy content?…Any brand that focuses myopically on one platform, they’re missing [a marketing opportunity].” 

Whether marketers will welcome Atlas as the archetypal Titan who held up the celestial spheres—or respond in keeping with the title of Ayn Rand’s iconic novel—remains to be seen.

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