Atlas Part Of Facebook Attack On Google Display Dominance

Facebook has been building toward a full-blown challenge of Google’s Display Network (often still called AdSense). It now appears that Facebook’s Atlas ad-serving platform is emerging as a strategic part of that effort.

That’s according to an article appearing in The Information (subscription required). The article lays out Facebook’s apparent strategy:

Facebook’s goal with Atlas, along with recently acquired video ad network LiveRail and the mobile ad business known as the Facebook Audience Network, is to offer advertisers and agencies an “ad tech stack” — a complementary set of services that presents a clear alternative to DoubleClick, Google’s multi-pronged service that’s used by both buyers and sellers of online ads.

Atlas and Google’s DoubleClick are basically mutually exclusive tools and platforms. Apparently Facebook (using Atlas) will also release a so-called Demand Side Platform  (DSP) next month. This will compete with DoubleClick’s exchange, although it hypothetically could also buy inventory there.

Facebook acquired Atlas from Microsoft for an estimated $100 million in 2013. Microsoft had bought Atlas as part of a package with its then largest-ever acquisition of aQuantive (for $6 billion) in 2007. At the time Microsoft was playing catch up following Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick and Yahoo’s purchase of Right Media

At $100 million Facebook got a deal on Atlas. Facebook told multiple media outlets at the time that buying Atlas wasn’t about building an ad network to challenge Google. Rather is was about helping marketers better understand the value of their ad spending on Facebook.

Having accomplished that Facebook is ready to tackle the larger goal of trying to unseat Google in display. Reportedly one of its potential weapons against Google/DoubleClick is better cross-platform targeting and attribution.

The Information asserts that Facebook could potentially ban the Google pixel from ads on Facebook. That would allegedly weaken DoubleClick by preventing it from tracking ads on the social site.

As the data and chart below indicate, DoubleClick dominates online ad serving. Atlas has only a small slice of the pie today.

Source: Datanyze

Yet as part of Facebook, Atlas is in a much stronger position than it would have been had it remained at Microsoft.

While at Microsoft, Atlas personnel were vocal critics of “last click attribution,” which gave credit for conversions to Google AdWords. Atlas argued (in 2008) that there were multiple online-ad touchpoints prior to a conversion event and sought to model and expose their relative influence.

About The Author

Greg Sterling
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.