‘The ad server world is pretty commoditized’ – Why Facebook closed its ad server

Advertisers and media agencies are rarely excited talking about a change of ad server, according to Facebook's Damian Burns

Facebook confirmed the closure of its ad server today, explaining that it is winding down the original function of Atlas due to the ‘commoditization’ of the space; a decision it “didn’t take lightly”.

Facebook first revealed it was winding down the ad serving offering back in September, and this “sunsetting” process is now firmly under way, with the online media giant currently in the throes of helping those clients that had adopted this element of the service to migrate to alternatives, as well as repositioning its Atlas offering within its Marketing Science division.

Speaking with The Drum, Damian Burns, global head of sales at Atlas, explains why it is now repositioning Atlas as a measurement tool.

“If you look back at what we talked about at launch and the lifespan of the product thus far, it’s all been about measurement, that’s where all the value is,” he told The Drum. “The ad server world has become pretty commoditized, the ability to serve ads to a publisher site’s site is pretty rudimentary …. it doesn’t add a lot of valuer to your life and doesn’t bring a lot of differentiation to the marketplace.”

There’s been a misconception about Facebook’s Atlas offering, according to Burns, pointing out that most in the industry had thought it was necessary to use the ad serving portion of Atlas in order to avail of the measurement capabilities. “That simply isn’t true,” declared Burns, adding that there are currently over 300 advertisers using the Atlas platform, most of them are “major blue-chip” companies. “A very small proportion of those are ad serving clients,” he added.

The process of “onboarding” a new ad server is a difficult one, with the initiation of new system, which involves adding new tagging, among many other chores, widely deemed a laborious one. Quite simply, it’s not a conversation that many advertisers aren’t interested in having, according to Burns.

“We had that [ad serving] functionality, but if you look at the case studies and success stories, it’s all been about the measurement and the value therein,” he said. “So we believe the right thing to do is double down on that. To be honest, that’s where all the demand is. When you talk to advertisers and agencies, they’re far less interested in conversations around an ad server, and much less keen to do the ad server switch, and upending the existing system.”

This process involves Facebook opening up to third-party measurement (something it has had to do on a more acrimonious manner on other elements of its business) and it has partnered with the likes of Nielsen, Visual IQ among others, to help advertisers better assess the impact of advertising on Facebook’s network can have on offline sales.

According to Burns, there will be no job loses involved in this process, and it will merely be a switch from one part of the business to another, with the company’s leadership team currently devising how the new look division will operate. This renewed offering it to be fully unveiled in 2017.

Speaking earlier with The Drum, Danny Hopwood, Publicis Media, vice president solutions and platforms operations, EMEA, offered his assessment of the media giant's positioning in the measurement space. He argued that this represents a massive shift from the initial stance it took upon first entering the market with the Atlas proposition.

“Facebook is learning iteratively that it can’t prescribe the success metric, but it’s likely to still be a controlled environment,” he said.

Although, he did go on to voice some doubt as to whether they represented 100% transparency in terms of cross-measurement with advertising performance on other ecosystems.

“I doubt you’ll be able to take this data and match it to see it across Google and Facebook. For instance, I doubt you’ll be able to look through the lens of Nielsen Catalina at both Facebook and Google."

Similar issues and topics will be covered during The Drum's Programmatic Punch event in London next month.

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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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