Facebook And Google Are Bringing Walled Gardens Back

timmayerupdated“Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Tim Mayer, chief marketing officer at Trueffect.

Facebook’s ad platform, Atlas, recently relaunched with an entirely rewritten ad server platform, a newly redesigned user interface and the ability to target and measure advertising across devices using the Facebook identity, even for channels beyond Facebook.

The news raises several interesting questions for the industry: How will this impact the ad tech industry overall? Will this new capability drive advertisers to migrate to Facebook from DoubleClick, which has long been considered market leader in the space, or is the market shifting? Should advertisers look beyond these two solutions?

Atlas Goals

In order to understand Atlas’ impact, it’s important to first understand the goal of the platform. With the Facebook identity being the central element in ad measurement and targeting, Atlas solves the “cookie proliferation” issue, which causes huge gaps in ad measurement. This in turn leads advertisers to optimize their campaigns based upon metrics that are magnitudes away from reality.

So what’s behind the issues with cookie proliferation? For one, many platforms and browsers, such as iOS and Safari, do not accept third-party cookies, and security programs typically delete them every seven days on average. And we can all relate to one of the most important issues cookie proliferation raises: people using multiple devices, such as phones, tablets and laptops, with each device being viewed as belonging to a different user in measurement and targeting.

People have traditionally been targeted with ads based upon the media they consume, which helps advertisers learn more about their preferences. Now with Facebook’s identity being a key element, advertisers can target people via their self-disclosed public information as well as offline behavior and purchases.

Over the past few months, there have been numerous articles on the death of the cookie or, more specifically, the death of third-party cookies. The Facebook solution uses first-party cookies, which have a longer persistence and are accepted across devices and browsers. Facebook users are known to check Facebook multiple times a day – 14 times from a smartphone and spending an average of 40 minutes while on desktop – so the likelihood they do not have a cookie set at any particular time is pretty low.

What’s The Catch?

Facebook’s cross-device measurement solution is limited to the user base of Facebook, and is to some extent at the whim of the company's rise and fall in market share. True, Facebook promises to allow marketers to serve and track impressions across multiple networks and publishers for all of their prospecting and retargeting buys. That's powerful. But the platform does not allow marketers to "take it with them" -- in other words, to export the Facebook cross-device data into their own data management platform. Marketers wishing to mingle the Atlas ID with their own solution must upload their own first-party data for execution through Facebook's pipes.

First-party data is one of a company’s most valuable assets, so why would you want to let it out of the control of your domain? In the advertising world, you are either a net provider or a net consumer of data in the network-advertising model. You either have more data than the average advertiser and you are contributing to the system, or you have less and are benefiting from others.

Do you want to give up access to some of your most valuable intellectual property – your own data? One should be wary of this model and consider the implications of participating in it.

Google’s Reaction

Since the Facebook announcement leaked last month, Google has had plenty of time to consider its next move.

It has promoted a cross-device ad format in which advertisers can create an ad one time that can be propagated across many Google ad platforms and devices. Does this tell us that Google is abandoning identity and cross-device measurement, or is it focused on other strengths, such as native advertising, wearable devices, the Android mobile operating system and Google Maps, to provide advertisers with new signals and formats going forward?

Additionally, Google has started cracking down on third-party pixels used in ads that are not bought and served by a particular demand-side platform. This will cause problems for advertisers as many buy across multiple demand-side platforms and measure using a single data-management platform. This policy enforcement, if pursued beyond the Google Display network, will likely cause a walled garden, forcing advertisers to consolidate more of their advertising budgets within Google.

Facebook, Google And More

The Facebook announcement was a big step for Atlas. There are some significant advantages in its new solution, especially compared to its previous offering.

But take heed: Both Google and Facebook are moving toward a walled garden approach with their advertising.

Advertisers need to think beyond the status quo and look to what is next for solutions with optionality to have a buy-side-centric solution that would work across all publishers and networks, similar to emerging identity models that vendors such as Experian and Nielsen are creating.

Marketers would be wise to evaluate these solutions and beyond. It is not the success of Facebook or Google that matters. It is your own.

Correction: This column previously  characterized Atlas as a sell-side solution that operates within the Facebook Exchange environment. In fact it allows the serving and tracking of impressions across multiple networks and publishers. 

Follow Tim Mayer (@timmayer), Trueffect (@Trueffect_Tweet) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.


  1. "Do you want to give up access to some of your most valuable intellectual property – your own data? One should be wary of this model and consider the implications of participating in it."

    Nothing is being given up. Facebook has better data than any DSP or publisher. This extension to Atlas is a positive for publishers as well as advertisers.

  2. Jasper,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that Facebook's data is better than behavioral data as you say. What I am talking about in terms of data is First-Party Data which is proprietary data that a brand/advertiser owns which could be CRM/customer data, registration data or data about what a user has done on the brand's web site. This can and should be used for audience targeting by an advertiser via the ad server or other methods. This is the data I am saying that advertisers would not want to share or expose in a network advertising model.


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