Facebook’s ad-tech strategy grows ever more insular.
Facebook has decided to stop operating its Atlas ad server but continue to run its Atlas measurement tool, the company announced on Friday. As much as the decision was Facebook’s to make — Atlas’s ad server has struggled to attract customers — it shows how centered Facebook’s ad-tech strategy has become around ads sold through Facebook.
Atlas’s ad server and measurement tool are sibling products, but only one directly serves Facebook’s ad sales. Advertisers use the ad server to automatically determine which specific ad to place into slots bought without Facebook’s involvement. And they use the measurement tool to evaluate how all the different ads they bought performed, including the ones bought through Facebook, in order to allocate credit and decide where to spend their money going forward.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to say how many advertisers have used the Atlas ad server to date. But the Atlas measurement tool has been used by more than 300 advertisers in the past 18 months, according to the company.
While Facebook has continued to work on developing Atlas’s ad server as recently as this year when it added video ad serving, ad serving was never Facebook’s primary concern with Atlas. It’s not even the primary reason Facebook bought Atlas from Microsoft in 2013.
“We are acquiring Atlas because we think measurement is critically important,” Facebook’s then-director of product marketing and current VP of advertising technology, Brian Boland, told me at the time of the acquisition.
Boland reiterated the point earlier this year in an interview. “Our approach isn’t first and foremost to be an ad server and, oh by the way, we’ll measure. Our approach is to very much solve the measurement problem and to add more value, once we understand the value, through ad serving,” he said.
There’s plenty of shade that can be thrown on those comments in light of Facebook’s recent measurement failures, but it’s been clear even without that comment that Facebook bought Atlas for its measurement capabilities.
For starters, Facebook has struggled to sell advertisers on switching from their existing ad servers, like Google’s DoubleClick, to Atlas. It didn’t help that Atlas also struggled struggled to serve ads, as reported earlier this year by AdExchanger.
But at the same time as the Atlas ad server failed to keep pace with rival ad servers, Facebook has been trying to develop the Atlas measurement tool as a way to stay ahead of rival ad sellers. For example, in September Facebook announced a handful of ad measurement deals, some of which involving Atlas and all of which amounting to Facebook trying to give advertisers a closer measure of how its ads compare with others’, including TV networks’; a Facebook spokesperson said those measurement deal won’t be impacted by the ad server shutdown. That same month Facebook folded the Atlas team into the company’s Marketing Sciences team that focuses on measurement.