Facebook Denies Google Access to FBX

Partners with AOL and Adobe

Facebook and Google aren’t exactly besties, and the social giant’s latest move won’t help matters. In recent weeks Facebook has made two friends through moves that will simultaneously help its own advertising business and hurt Google’s.

Last month, Adobe and AOL joined Facebook Exchange, the social network’s display retargeting platform beloved by direct-response advertisers who are typically big-time Google buyers. Google was conspicuously not included.

That could give a leg up to those looking to build end-to-end ad tech platforms for advertisers. FBX access “is a key differentiator,” said Ned Brody, CEO of AOL Networks. Adobe Advertising Solutions’ senior director of new product innovation Justin Merickel called the exchange “a huge inventory source.”

Indeed, as Google, Adobe, AOL and others endeavor to own the digital ad space’s plumbing, the absence of FBX inventory can be a glaring gap. During Facebook’s most recent earnings call, COO Sheryl Sandberg said by December Facebook Exchange was serving more than 1 billion impressions daily from more than 1,300 advertisers a day. In the first month that Adobe began testing FBX, one advertiser ended up seeing 32 percent of its impressions run on the exchange, impressions that would normally be spread across seven suppliers. IgnitionOne CEO Will Margiloff projected FBX will quickly become the No. 2 RTB inventory source behind Google’s AdX exchange.

“[Google’s] DoubleClick Bid Manager is used by hundreds of agencies and businesses to buy inventory across dozens of private and publisher exchanges and platforms,” said a Google spokesperson. “Google clients would like to access FBX through that platform as well, but that is not available today.” Facebook declined to comment.

Being shut out of FBX “is not helping Google, but I don’t think it’s going to have that dramatic of an impact,” observed IDC analyst Karsten Weide. “Long term that may be a different story, but today [Google has] so much search inventory that they don’t really need Facebook inventory.”

Still, Facebook and Google have been in discussions about working together since FBX launched, sources said, dismissing the notion of a cold war between the companies. Instead, what is holding Facebook back is a desire to keep Google from comparing the quality of its inventory with sources, they said.

Conceivably, that point of contention should also apply to AOL and Adobe, though both companies are pitching their platforms’ abilities to show FBX performance data side-by-side with other ad buys. FBX “is just another inventory source, albeit a powerful one,” Brody said. Merickel echoed Brody’s sentiment but explicitly emphasized Adobe’s independence from publishing inventory, implying its position is unlike Google and AOL both of whom play on the demand and supply side of online advertising.

For now FBX inventory is holding its own and then some. In the first month Adobe tested the exchange, its advertisers saw a 70 percent higher conversion rate and 50 percent lower cost-per-lead for FBX ads compared to the average rate seen among eight other real-time bidding sources. But there can be reasons FBX may not always be the best pick, and Adobe’s and AOL’s platforms could bring those instances to light, changing how advertisers value the exchange.

“It’s important to understand that the bigger scale you have as a network or [demand-side platform], you can identify what is the best place for a client to buy that [impression.]…If you have true scale, you can say 'we predict we will see this person in two hours on another site and we know from our bidding history that it’s less expensive to buy on that site than Facebook or vice versa,'” Brody said.

However advertisers placing FBX bids through Adobe or AOL could experience some initial growing pains, said Zach Coelius, CEO of demand-side platform, one of the initial eight FBX partners. He estimated it would take about six months for AOL and Adobe to get up to speed with FBX partners like his that have been using the exchange and refining their technology to ensure the best buys for advertisers since last summer.

“We’ve already gone through five versions of our optimization algorithm and so have other launch partners,” he said. However, both Merickel and Brody downplayed any technical hurdles.

Regardless, AOL and Adobe will still have a head-start if and when Google plugs into the exchange. Until then the two companies could parlay their FBX access into more advertisers using their end-to-end platforms, potentially instead of Google’s.

Plus, Facebook appears to be building its own ad tech platform, given its recent acquisition of ad server Atlas Solutions, which should improve its ability to attribute ads’ performance. “A super strategic move to get where they’ve always wanted to be in advertising,” said Weide. In short: on Google’s level.