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Facebook Relaunches Online Ad Platform Atlas

thumbsup-01The world’s largest social media network has relaunched its Atlas advertising platform last month, focusing on improved tracking, greater cross-device compatibility, and eliminating the reliance on cookies. This move signals a heated battle between Facebook and Google, as the two tech giants aim to capture the $140 billion Internet marketing industry.

It’s important to note that Atlas is a separate online advertising platform from Facebook Ads. Facebook Ads, which is accessed through your personal account, serves ads directly on Facebook.com. It offers both a cost-per-impression (CPM) and cost-per-click (CPC) payment model. Atlas serves ads to various third-party properties, such as Omnicom and Instragram (Facebook owns Instagram).

Originally built by Razorfish, Atlas is an online advertising platform that reportedly serves billions of ad impressions per day. It offers a wide range of tools to meet the dynamic needs of its advertisers, including various tracking and targeting options. Microsoft acquired Atlas as part of a $6.3 billion deal for aQuantive in 2007. Last year, Facebook purchased it from Microsoft for pennies on the dollar (rumored to be a $100 million deal).

Since its acquisition of Atlas, Facebook has worked to improve the platform by leveraging the power of its data. It’s estimated that some 1.3 billion people access Facebook each month, “liking” brands, posting stories, sharing videos, and engaging in conversations with one another. Facebook wants to use this data to create a more effective online advertising platform, which his why it recently relaunched Atlas.

On September 29, 2014, Eric Johnson of Atlas announced the ad platform’s relaunch in a blog post, citing the growing trend of mobile Internet access. Why is mobile Internet access important for Atlas? One of the main features that sets Atlas apart from other online marketing platforms is the simple fact that it doesn’t use cookies. Most traditional ad platforms, including Google Adwords, use cookies to determine which websites a user has visited. With this information, Adwords can make better decisions regarding which ads to serve the user. The problem with cookies, however, is that most smartphones and tablet computers ignore them; therefore, they are essentially useless when serving ads to mobile users.

Today, we are announcing the launch of Atlas. We’ve rebuilt Atlas from the ground up to tackle today’s marketing challenges, like reaching people across devices and bridging the gap between online impressions and offline purchases,” wrote Erik Johnson. “People spend more time on more devices than ever before. This shift in consumer behavior has had a profound impact on a consumer’s path to purchase, both online and in stores. And today’s technology for ad serving and measurement – cookies – are flawed when used alone.”

Facebook describes the newly relaunched Atlas platform as a “people-based” marketing tool. This moniker is a reference to Atlas’ use of demographic targeting instead of cookie-based targeting. By integrating Facebook’s data into the platform, advertisers can choose to display their ads to their target demographic. A home improvement store, for instance, would benefit the most from serving ads to males, whereas a local wedding dress boutique could likely benefit the most from serving ads to females.

Atlas also has the ability to determine which type of device a customer was using at the time of purchase. Advertisers are usually left in the dark regarding this type of information, forcing them to speculate as to whether or not mobile devices are being used to purchase their products. With Atlas, however, advertisers can see how many sales were made on PCs, Macs, Android smartphones, Apple smartphones, Windows smartphones, tablet computers, etc. Why is this information important? Well, if a large percentage of a company’s sales are being made on mobile devices, it would be in their best interest to ensure their website is fully compatible for the respective device.

Mobile Internet continues to grow with each passing year. In fact, a comScore webinar predicted that more people will use mobile devices to access the Internet than desktops by 2015. That’s a pretty bold statement that attests to the power of mobile. Facebook acknowledges the importance of a positive mobile experience, which is why it’s revamped Atlas to identify users’ devices while also eliminating the need for cookies. With Facebook taking additional steps to improve its position in the online marketing industry, many analysts expect Google to follow suit. Adwords remains the world’s largest online advertising platform, but Atlas is a serious contender.

A third feature of Atlas that’s worth noting is its ability to follow relationships between customers and the advertisers. For example, if a customer entered his or her email address during checkout, Facebook could notify the advertiser when that user viewed the ad. Atlas is currently limited to tracking and ad-serving, but Facebook reportedly plans to release it as an ad-purchasing platform in the future.