The Death of the Cookie: What Facebook Did that Microsoft Couldn’t

An eraser pointing to a clear internet history options on a computer screen.

I was just sent this re/code article from a client on the Facebook relaunch of the Atlas ad serving platform. Naturally I became more curious and wanted to find out what this really means. After doing some more digging on the subject, they seem to have gotten a bit ahead of themselves on what the recent relaunch of Atlas means immediately, and what the potential is, though.

So what is an ad server? By definition, “is a computer server, specifically a web server backed by a database server, that stores advertisements used in online marketing and delivers them to website visitors.”. From our side of the business, in most simple terms, it delivers a piece of code that our publisher partners then implement into their ad server, which calls our creative from the server, attaches the URL which it clicks through to, and attaches a cookie to the viewer for reporting purposes.

Why does this matter to Microsoft and Google? Ad servers require you to implement the ad unit size, creative type, rate, cost model, site name and targeting, so it can provide reporting against each line item on a media plan to the advertiser paying them to serve their banners. Outside of simply reporting, these platforms also collect and store all of this data, so with the proper tools, the owner of these servers can mine these rich data sets to help create profiles of converting audiences for all of their advertisers, as well as any sites they’re acting as an ad server for (it’s not just agencies and advertisers that utilize ad servers, but also publishers/networks/etc). This is the piece of the pie that Microsoft was after, to help power its  MSN + Bing offerings. Unlike Google, though, they weren’t able to effectively monetize, and without really updating their interface, lost even more market share to Google/DoubleClick.

Enter Facebook, who now holds one of the largest data sets on the web, sees the greatest time spent of any destination on the web, has their own ad exchange where 3rd parties can programmatically purchase remnant inventory and requires a log in for all 829 million active users across both mobile and desktop traffic. Given the log-in requirement, they are one of the only portals that can truly cross-platform (mobile to desktop and vice versa) target and report with 100% accuracy….but only on Facebook. For targeting purposes, specifically with retargeting, where you want to control frequency, the mobile impressions and desktop impressions would be treated as two different people on all ad servers, but since Facebook requires a log-in, you can frequency cap with much more accuracy. In regard to reporting, if you wanted to go extremely deep on attribution analysis, this 100% match across devices could tell you that a user was exposed to 5 mobile impressions, followed by one desktop impression prior to converting. On any other platform, you would give 100% credit to that desktop impression, since you couldn’t match the mobile impressions to the desktop. Getting in the weeds here, I know…

What does the new Atlas relaunch mean NOW? Currently Facebook is leveraging the rich amounts of data on the Atlas ad serving platform, and marrying it up with the user ID that Facebook has. In other words, Facebook is passing through their user IDs in Atlas, tracking these users on mobile and on desktop as they move around the web. In the short term, an advertiser using Atlas as their ad server will be able to provide a more detailed attribution analysis, seeing both desktop and mobile impressions served to the same user. It is important to note that they do not have a 100% match rate outside of Facebook, YET. They’re furiously working to make partnerships with publishers, advertisers, and DSPs to begin the matching process across a much wider portion of the web, as they’re reportedly able to accurately see about 50% of web traffic to date. As they make these partnerships and begin the matching process, this data will become more stable, and more actionable outside of the Facebook walls.

What does the new Atlas relaunch mean MOVING FORWARD from an advertising standpoint? This is the million dollar question as of now, but what is being hinted at in the re/code article, as well as the Forbes and Business Insider articles below, is that Atlas will be the vehicle to deliver Facebook’s audience profiles and rich data set to the ad exchanges, and ultimately programmatic buying platforms. In an ideal world, we’ll be able to access this data through the Just Media Programmatic Buying Platform, the same way we currently do for myriad other 3rd party data providers (such as BlueKai, Bizo, Acxiom, Datalogix, etc). We’d then be utilizing real time bidding as a method of securing this inventory, across the entire web, where any inventory is put up for bid.

What’s most exciting about this potential, though, is the cross-platform piece! Currently targeting available on mobile devices falls short, as cookies are simply not an effective method of tracking users, and are the foundation on which 3rdparty data providers are built upon. There is no firm date when this possibility will become a reality, but rest assured that Just Media is keeping a very close eye and staying in constant contact with executives at our programmatic buying platform.

Only time will tell what this means to the future of digital media, but I’m definitely not the only one that will be eagerly waiting for this data to become actionable outside of the Facebook walls!

Patrick Fenton
Just Media, Inc. 

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