Atlas, At Last. Facebook Ad Chief Gokul Rajaram Speaks

fb-atlasFacebook has confirmed its agreement to buy Atlas from Microsoft, paving the way for a more robust demand-side offering from the company. In an interview with AdExchanger, Ads Product Director Gokul Rajaram said the primary aim is to help advertisers compare their Facebook ads with all online, and eventually offline, placements. An ad network is not in the picture, he said, at least in the short term.

“This acquisition allows marketers and agencies to measure the ROI of their campaigns across both Facebook and non-Facebook properties, and across desktop and mobile,” Rajaram said. “Our goal is to be able to measure cross-device insights, and be the best ad serving platform on the Internet.”

The companies did not disclose terms of the deal, which was first reported by AdAge.

To achieve its product goals for Atlas, Facebook will need to invest heavily in engineering and product management hires, and so that’s what it plans to do. Rajaram said the company will keep Atlas based in Seattle, while hiring up in product development, engineering, and design. It will develop its base of operations in that city into a second hub for ad-related product development, in addition to Menlo Park. The bigger office there will have the additional benefit of helping Facebook coordinate closely with Microsoft, which is a close partner.

“We’re excited to be a bigger part of the ecosystem there,” he said.

But perhaps the biggest plans Facebook has for the platform are around mobile.

One of the big things we hear from marketers and agencies is that the current ad serving systems do not support mobile. Mobile is a black box. Mobile basically is unsupported in ad serving and measurement. Marketers need to know their mobile campaigns can be fully measured and that’s not happening today. And so we are committing to eventually build a mobile device, cross platform ad serving solution for Atlas,” said Rajaram.

Facebook has long been frustrated that it must constantly debate the value of its advertising, whether as a social buy or on a click basis. It wants to own the attribution funnel so it can prove the value of its ads directly to advertisers. It also doesn’t help that Google controls so much demand. This is a large reason DoubleClick Search and DoubleClick Bid Manager don’t have access to FBX.

Atlas has long been a subject of sale talks, as Microsoft seeks a natural home for the platform it once viewed as an answer to Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick. Turn, AppNexus and others have sniffed around, but the deals never panned out. Their mutual alliance against Google is one of the most convenient aspects of this transaction between Microsoft and Facebook.

Microsoft communications director Tom Phillips shared this statement on the sale:

“We needed to sharpen our focus and concentrate on identifying, building and executing on the things that are core to our vision for the future as our entire company transitions to a devices and services model.  The continued investment in third party ad serving technology like Atlas, while important, is less of a strategic pillar for our business than it once was.”

Did Facebook buy Atlas for customers? Facebook says yes, in part, but AdExchanger hears Atlas has only two substantial customers: AT&T and Razorfish.

Rajaram answered a few additional questions:

Do you want marketers to use Facebook as the hub for all online advertising, and eventually offline as well?

You’re right. Atlas is already a digital campaign management platform. We do continue to want to invest in that. We want to make sure Atlas has a really comprehensive solution for being able to measure, track and manage your campaign.

Why not build this? Why buy it?  

Two things. Atlas already has expertise in this. So this is a fairly complex ecosystem, it’s a fairly complex technology stack. It’s a fairly complex product. There’s a lot of domain expertise. We feel the Atlas product already has a lot of experience, both around understanding customer needs around technology. Second, they already have a fairly large ad server, used by a number of clients and agencies out there.

Will Facebook launch an ad network?

We are focused on measurement at this point.

[The goal] is basically to improve the measurement capabilities to help marketers to understand the impact of their spend on Facebook. We have enough on our plate to execute on and build.

Will you go after only large advertiser and agency clients? Might you offer a free product for smaller guys?

We don’t know what direction the product is going to take. We want to invest in the product. We want to make the product better.

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  1. Ok…so, Facebook bought Atlas for its mobile ad tracking capabilities? Atlas, by their own admission, states that their technology does not support and should not be used for mobile campaigns. I would have thought that small point would have come up in the diligence process!

  2. I think this is one more mile marker on the path to digital media ad convergence … and it is a step in the right direction for the entire ecosystem. The objective for major brands is increasingly to seek cross-platform integration, because dollar for dollar, a campaign integrated across media channels with a well-balanced (and data-driven) mix provides the best bang for that buck. Measuring the effectiveness of cross-platform integration is today’s challenge; Facebook just made it a little easier, and the Atlas deal will pave the way for brands to accelerate the shift to integrated campaigns.

    It also reflects, I believe, a deeper philosophy of Facebook: they don’t seek to be a glorified publisher with social bells and whistles as some believe and as the Street sometimes appears to want. I believe Mark Zuckerberg has a bigger vision: to be the infrastructure and architecture of the global social digital experience. They’ll leave the actual trading of the ad units to their partners.

    Don Mathis (