I won’t blame you for not being an avid reader of Facebook’s ‘Measurement FYI’ blog, nor for not paying much attention to its latest update simply entitled ‘Expanding Measurement to More Advertisers’, but make no mistake this is a big moment in the history of digital marketing. On the back foot after six months of measurement and viewability challenges, Facebook is coming out swinging, and it's willing to take on all comers in the process.
What once began as a private Atlas beta test is soon to be a publicly accessible, and seemingly free, part of Facebook’s Business Manager campaign tool set. In basic terms the technology uses consistent tracking across your online advertising, whether it’s a Facebook ad or something served on countless other platforms across the wider web, and builds a holistic picture of how your reach and impact builds across them. Its USP is that through use of Facebook login data it can be far more confident of identifying real, unique humans than anyone relying solely on cookies (though in reality it uses both).
As Facebook puts it: “Advanced measurement will make it easier to compare the effectiveness of Facebook, Instagram and Audience Network alongside other publishers”. That may sound simple, and it’s something that has been possible to an extent through expensive third party studies before, but it will bring a transformative level of clarity to anyone trying to assess the impact of a campaign across multiple channels. Not only does it start to show you how your reach (and potentially frequency) builds across different touch points, it goes further in terms of tracking which ones actually drive real conversions and results, or even down the line shifts in brand metrics and intent.
While the industry looks set to embark on a deep dive into viewability and watch lengths, a place where Facebook has some weaknesses on paper, it's putting out a massive challenge for marketers to look beyond those interim measures and actually see what impact is driven. Your ad may be on screen for less time on Facebook than on another website, but does that matter if people pay more attention to it and take more out from it?
Viewability feels like a black and white debate but it’s actually incredibly subjective whether longer watch times are worth higher costs, and how useful it is being on screen if you’re not demanding full attention. While Facebook is also introducing ways of optimising and improving on that front they’re also throwing a lifeline out for those who don’t want to get sucked into a viewability sink hole and lose sight of the original business objectives and metrics.
It opens the door for a marketer to get a report showing exactly where their ads are landing, who is seeing them where and how often, and which channels are working hardest to drive actual results. There’s no guarantee of course that Facebook will come out on top all the time, though one assumes it is quietly confident it won’t do too badly. In itself it shouldn’t (like any measurement) be blindly used to steer budgets at all in fact, though it can certainly help advertisers improve their effectiveness across all channels, optimise creative and perhaps in time realise there are some that aren’t working for them.
The move is also the quiet end of Atlas as a brand – acquired from Microsoft in 2013 it looked at first like a big play to take on Google’s Double Click with a ‘People Based Marketing’ approach to advertising on the wider web. It turned into a rather unsubtle dig at that whole advertising space when in March 2016 they abandoned plans to build a programmatic DSP citing issues with the quality of ad inventory available and the huge challenges of bot fraud on anything beyond native video advertising. Despite a brief push to still find a place for it higher up in advertisers’ tech stacks by the end of 2016, Facebook quietly moved the technology into its measurement division, though continued to charge advertisers to tag their campaigns.
Now it looks like the Atlas tech won’t be a money maker in itself directly, and its logo already seems to be vanishing from the latest Facebook marketing materials, but it may yet indirectly be its biggest money maker of all if it can help prove out its value versus other online choices that advertisers have. Facebook has faced huge scrutiny of late around its measurement and viewability but here’s its answer: whatever criticism you’re throwing at us we believe we can outperform the wider online industry, and we’re willing to prove it.
Jerry Daykin is a digital marketer who has worked both client and agency side. Follow his quest for #DigitalSense over on LinkedIn