Facebook Atlas: Here's What You Need to Know

People are spending more time on more devices than ever before, which has had a significant impact on their online and offline purchases. But today’s technology for serving ads is flawed. Not only are cookies becoming less accurate, but they’re also unsuitable for mobile. Facebook’s acquisition of Atlas in 2013 and and subsequent relaunch last month aims to solve these problems.

Announced at Advertising Week this past September, the newly relaunched Atlas helps marketers reach people across devices, platforms, and publishers. In turn, consumers will see ads that are most relevant to them. While Atlas is currently only available on an invite-only basis, you can begin to prepare to use the tool now; here’s everything you need to know.

What Atlas Is and Isn’t

Although Atlas lets you buy ads through Facebook to be placed on websites and apps not owned by the social network, it isn’t an ad network. Rather, Atlas is an ad-serving and measurement platform. Its purpose is to bridge the gap between desktop and mobile, revealing actionable insights that clarify what actually drives reach and sales.

As a holistic ad suite, Atlas gives marketers and agencies the ability to understand buyers, guide brand journeys, and create impactful campaigns from a single web location. In its current state, here’s what you can accomplish through Atlas:

  • Reach the right people at the right time.
  • Measure the true impact your spend has on sales growth.
  • Understand the customer journey, from the first contact to the final sale, online or off.

That said, Facebook does have plans to use the same technology to help marketers purchase ad space as well. According to David Jakubowski, Facebook’s head of ad tech, the company first wants its advertiser clients to use Atlas’s “people-based” technology to better understand the effectiveness of their ad campaigns.

“When advertisers see the impact people-based marketing can have on their bottom lines and their businesses, the very next thing they want to do is take action on those insights, and they want to do that as quickly as they can,” explained Jakubowski. “We’re playing with and experimenting with ways we can enable that inside of the Atlas ecosystem and through partnerships.”

How Does It Work?

The benefits of Atlas are twofold. Not only does this system let you track consumers across platforms and devices, but it also helps to bridge the gap between online and offline behaviors.

Cross-Device

Marketers currently rely on cookies to better understand which of their ads people have seen. The downside is that cookies don’t work well on mobile devices and give an incomplete picture of the ads consumers are actually exposed to as they move around the web.

According to a recent study, 60 percent of U.S. adults use two or more devices each day, making it impossible for cookies to deliver accurate and reliable data. Facebook said that Atlas will fix that problem by “using technology that understands activity across mobile and desktop usage,” closing the gap in marketers’ ability to accurately serve relevant ads across devices.

Facebook Atlas: Here’s What You Need to Know

This essentially means that Atlas will follow an individual across the web rather than a cookie, making note of the ads the person sees, interacts with, and acts upon. That information will then be tied back to his or her Facebook profile. As such, you’ll be able to understand that a customer purchased a product on desktop, but first saw an ad for it on mobile. The social network already tracks members this way on its own platform, but now this functionality will be extended to other websites and apps.

To be clear, although Facebook knows who these individuals are, it won’t single out anyone and say that Jane Doe bought something from your business. Rather, you’ll give Facebook a list of people who bought some of your products and the social network will compare that list with the number of people who saw your ads, providing you with the percentage of targeted people who actually bought the advertised product.

Bridging Online and Offline

The 2014 U.S. Census revealed that 94 percent of retail purchases are still happening in-store. As such, it’s critical that marketers are able to tie consumers’ offline behaviors to their online ones. Unfortunately, traditional advertising tools offer limited insight into what’s really happening in a buyer’s journey.

Atlas will enable marketers to measure which channels, platforms, and publishers within their online campaigns impacted the actual sales that happened in-store. This new level of transparency behind what drives buyer behavior will help connect offline purchase data with online campaigns to more holistically demonstrate your strategy’s effectiveness.

Facebook Atlas: Here’s What You Need to Know

The New York Times offered a great example: if PepsiCo wanted to reach college-aged men with ads for its new soft drink, it could use Atlas to identify several millions of potential customers and show each of them ads for it on game apps, sports, and video sites. Atlas will also provide the brand with information to help it determine which ads were the most effective.

You’ll receive overlap reports that show which audiences are being served across multiple sites. You’ll also be able to leverage demographic data to track performance, diving even deeper into actual results based on age, gender, location, device, and other attributes.

Early Results

One example of a company who used Atlas is digital agency M8. They created a cross-device, bilingual campaign for an airline client that was intended to reach people interested in routes between the U.S. and Latin America.

By using Atlas’ people-based measurement, M8 was able to prove that it helped the Latin America-focused airline deliver to the U.S. Hispanic Affinity audience at twice the rate of the market average — 15 percent vs. 7 percent of reach. Atlas also confirmed that this niche audience converted at more than twice the rate of the U.S. population as a whole — 0.85 versus 0.34 conversions per person.

“We always strive to verify that we are reaching our intended high-value audience niches, but with Atlas we can prove it at an unprecedented level,” said Jonatan Zinger, director of media insights at M8. “Atlas even told us which publishers can deliver more of this audience at a very granular scale.”

Potential Obstacles

While Atlas appears to be a valuable tool for brands, it’s not yet clear how consumers will react. Facebook has already come under fire for privacy concerns in the past, and supporting intrusive ads based on members’ in-store purchases or Likes around the Internet might only exacerbate the problem. Depending on the backlash, it might force Facebook into (and subsequently marketers running campaigns) to rethink their approach.

The social network has proactively given members the option to opt-out of Atlas. That said, even if an individual chooses not to receive personalized advertising, Atlas will continue to collect the same information from that person when he or she browses the web, sees or clicks on an ad delivered by the service, or uses one of its advertisers’ apps. That information, according to Atlas’ privacy policy, won’t be used for displaying personalized ads.

Of course, providing quality ads is just as much the marketer’s responsibility as it is Facebook’s. Even if you don’t know where your ad will be displayed, you can ensure that every single ad you create is not only relevant, but doesn’t come across as intrusive. This will hopefully help to minimize any negativity from viewers.

Before you sign up, we recommend taking a tour through the different products available to you. Here you’ll get a comprehensive look at what the platforms offer and more details on how each one can benefit your company. When you’re ready, click on the Get Started prompt at the bottom of the page and you’ll be asked a handful of questions about you, your company, and your business goals. Someone from Atlas will contact you to follow up once you’ve submitted the form.