Atlas: Is Facebook’s demographic data a marketing silver bullet?

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Marketers have a Faustian pact with cookies. Every marketer knows deep down that a cookie is a blunt instrument and its limitations are woefully apparent when dealing with cross-channel campaigns. Unfortunately, cookies are the best and arguably the only way to track the effectiveness of wide-reaching online campaigns. That is, until this year. The relaunch of Facebook’s Atlas and Twitter Fabric have arguably heralded a brave new world in online marketing.

Focusing on Facebook’s Atlas, it is a major move by Facebook to take on Google on its home turf — display advertising. Aside from dispensing with cookies, Atlas purports to bridge the gap between the offline and online advertising worlds by linking the interactions of customers in the real world to their Facebook profile.

At face value, linking to a user’s Facebook account offers a much more effective way to run a cross-channel marketing campaign by making ad targeting consistent across the various devices consumers now use.  However, there are several unanswered questions. Principally, it is not clear whether Atlas can overcome the challenges of cross-channel optimization and analysis on video.

Much has already been written about how difficult it is to analyze the effectiveness of video marketing content and it is difficult to see how the Facebook account link will do anything to alleviate this problem. Many marketers would say this approach could hardly be worse than cookies but it is only a matter of time before a tech firm squares this circle and offers an effective way of analyzing and optimizing video.

The partnership model that Facebook is currently deploying is also very interesting. By including major Facebook-owned platforms like Instagram, and presumably eventually WhatsApp, Atlas could own a very large and unique data set which, in the long term, marketers will find incredibly insightful. Atlas is currently only an ad serving and tracking tool, however, an ad-buying feature is coming down the pipeline and it makes perfect sense for Facebook to expand its offering further.

For third-parties, the potential for ad tech development that Atlas’s approach to tracking and analysis offers is attention-grabbing. However, one factor that is worth considering is how consumers will react as ads they are used to on Instagram and Facebook start following them across the internet, and their offline and online worlds converge as their purchases on the high street clearly influence what ads they see online. Internet privacy is an ongoing concern and you could imagine a scenario where a vocal negative reaction causes Facebook to change track on how Atlas operates. That uncertainty could play on the minds of marketers and brands alike, potentially slowing Atlas’s development.

Few marketers will mourn the death of cookies. However, at the moment the jury is out on whether Facebook and indeed other social media platforms offer a viable long-term alternative. The bottom line for marketers and brands is that more information and tools to track and target consumers is a good thing. Similarly, for consumers, better targeted ads should vastly improve the quality of the content that they see. We have all had frustrating experiences where the ads we see on websites either offer goods we have recently purchased or offer products that are almost comically unsuitable. The question is whether information mined from Facebook is enough to make ads accurate enough, particularly with video marketing.

Ron Soker is the Head of Social at cross-channel digital advertising platform dmg.

Image courtesy of Bloomua / Shutterstock.com.

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