Facebook Plays Favorites Among Its Brand Partners

Only some get access to new Atlas ad server

Facebook’s ad empire may be growing, but not everyone is sharing in the spoils. In fact, some of the social giant’s partners are quietly freaking out that they may be cut off from the bounty, while a select few gain privileged entry.

Facebook is laying the infrastructure for mobile advertising in much the same way Google built its business on top of desktop more than a decade ago. The social network recently launched an ad server on top of an ad network while it also develops a video ad platform from its purchase of Live Rail. It’s an ad stack that is bolstered by Facebook’s unique position of having a massive 1.3 billion member user base—from which it can glean massive amounts of valuable knowledge and data.

However, Facebook chose to make that info useful to a select number of preferred marketing partners at the late September launch of the Atlas ad server. Present were big names like Omnicom Media Group, SalesForce and SHIFT, all of whom appeared to be in a more special position than other longtime partners. They’ve been given first dibs on connecting to the new Atlas ad server, allowing them to take advantage of Facebook’s data to target and measure their ad campaigns for brands. Meanwhile, a number of other advertising technology partners were introduced to Atlas only after launch.

What distinguished the launch invitees from the rest? A number of industry sources familiar with Facebook’s Atlas rollout indicated it has to do with budget size. “Of course there’s a hierarchy,” said one source. “It’s about money.”

That’s why a company like Omnicom—which can drive hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising a year toward Facebook—was among Atlas’ early launch partners.

But for those not yet invited to Facebook’s Atlas party, there’s a feeling—perhaps even a fear—that they’re going to be left on the wrong side of the velvet rope. For how long, they don’t know. “There’s trepidation around the fact that this reinforces Facebook’s walled garden,” one marketing partner said. “You can’t get data out on a user level.”

But James Borow, CEO of Shift, who was among those initial partners allowed to launch with Atlas, said that Facebook is just selecting partners with aligned interests. Shift is plugged into most social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and uses data to target ads for brand clients. Shift is basically building its next-generation business on the fact that it can tap into Facebook’s data for targeting.

“We don’t feel it’s a walled garden at all,” said Borow. “In fact, we’re excited about what comes next, whether that’s Instagram coming online or Oculus Rift in a couple years.”

Facebook hasn’t said when—or even if—it plans to open Atlas’ doors to more partners, leaving a lot of potential vendors awaiting their invite.