Facebook's 'aggressive' Atlas rollout continues as it promises advertisers more branding tools

A little over a year since it relaunched Atlas, Facebook is pushing forward with the rollout of its ad server, which many see as a real contender to challenge Google's dominace of online advertising. It's now winning over almost two advertisers each week, according to Damian Burns, Atlas' head of sales, who spoke to The Drum about its efforts to accelerate uptake.

The Atlas team has been bolstering its ranks, notably though the addition of fellow ex-Googlers – Burns was formerly head of partnerships – with Andy Mihalop, who worked alongside Burns there, and Steve Webb, who previously headed up its WPP relationships.

These ambitions have true global scale, with Facebook's Atlas team also hiring significant personalities in the US, and most recently with the addition of Nick Seckold (formerly chief executive of Mindshare Singapore) to head up its APAC efforts.

"There's been a couple of pillars as we've been building out the business; number one is bringing in the talent," says Burns. "We've got high hopes for this, and we've been hiring pretty aggressively around the world... [with Seckold] we've got a great hire there."

Presently, Atlas is onboarding "one to two clients" each week, according to Burns, explaining that the number of impressions served by Atlas increased 150 per cent between March and June this year, with the number of clients running campaigns on Atlas increasing by 62 per cent between June and August.

However, the process of migrating from one platform to another is a notoriously ardent one, and Burns is quick to point out that this is a process that requires a degree of hand-holding, something Facebook has a dedicated technical team for.

"When you're selling an extended ad server it's an extended sales cycle for a number of reasons. Number one, is that it's a displacement sell: there's an incumbent there, so the path to selling and closing is basically a lot of side-by-side piloting," he says.

Burns was also quick to point out that the advantages of migrating to Atlas "completely trounce" any of the friction they may experience in the process of migrating from their earlier solution.

Just ask OMD, Conversed, for their opinion, Burns says, pointing towards a whitepaper that Facebook is currently presenting to prospective customers.

The document contains multiple testimonies from brands including Live Nation, Tommy Hilfiger, Guthy-Renker, Estée Lauder and Ferrero, with the latter reporting how its Atlas efforts have seen it benefit from a 45 per cent increase in conversions.

Meanwhile, it also tells how Estée Lauder used Atlas to realise that 18 per cent of its campaign spend has previously been wasted on off-target impressions, with the cosmetics giant now using these insights to further hone its media spend.

He went on to say how early adopters see Atlas as a "competitive advantage to be on a platform that has our scale, persistance and accuracy" compared to incumbent systems – read Google and its DoubleClick offering.

"So what you're seeing right now in terms of Atlas' volume is that there are a lot of new clients coming on board, aggressively piloting that platform to see how it compares [with alternatives]," explains Burns.

Atlas' key selling point is 'person centred marketing', with Facebook pointing out how the increase mobile plays in consumers' lives means the cookie – the de facto method of ad targeting and tracking on desktop – is increasingly redundant.

However, the fact that Facebook is able to track users across screens – through the log-in data, and subsequent user ID it can generate from this – places it in a unique position to help brands converse with consumers, regardless of where they are.

Burns went on to explain Facebook's opinion that the "frailty of the cookie" overstates reach by almost 60 per cent and understated frequency by almost 40 per cent. Facebook now reports that almost three-quarters of its ad revenues are generated by mobile, but many industry observers point out how most of this is generated by direct response (DR) spend, ie 'click-to-download app here' units, not the more lucrative brand budgets.

However, Burns believes the delineation between such media spend is something of a misnomer, and Facebook's Atlas is in a position to help blur the lines between DR and brand spend through its measurement capabilities.

"As soon as we can start connecting the dots between the stories these brands tell and the impact they have both in-store, and showrooms, then you're going to start to think about the framing of branding [as a siloed marketing medium from direct sales, etc]," he argues.

Facebook's Atlas team is continuing its charm offensive with advertisers, and as Burns stated, is working with agencies' ad ops teams to help bolster its capabilities, including functions that will better appeal to 'traditional brand advertisers'.

"We're just going to double-down on the areas that we've decided to focus on – that's mobile and cross-device, and from online to offline, plus accuracy, persistence and scale," he says.

"But if you look at the brands that we're referencing, the things like reach and frequency are quite a shallow proxy. I would argue that we have a very good mix of brand and DR objectives, we'll be able to say more about the brand-orientated stuff in good time."

A copy of Facebook's Atlas whitepaper can be downloaded here.

Ronan Shields

I'm the digital editor at The Drum, and cover adtech and martech. Prefer news and analysis, over opinion pieces. Current fascination(s) are blockchain and media futures trading; also curious about transhumanism on a personal basis. NYC-based, but really London Irish.

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