Category Archives: doubleclick

Facebook Acquisition of Atlas: Sad Day for Digital Advertisers

                                                      The Funeral of Santa Fina”, Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1485

Facebook just announced the other day  that it would acquire Atlas Solutions, a long-time competitor to Google’s DFA in the agency ad server business. As an adverlytics practitioner, many are asking about this and still more discussing the implications. Though the trade press will gush, investors may cheer and Atlas employees may be breathing a sigh of relief, it is truly a sad day for digital advertisers. Why? The choices available for independent third party ad serving (3PAS) just got much thinner. 

The Rationale

To be sure this is a canny move for Baby Google, just as Google’s DoubleClick acquisition engorged the dataplex with rich user-level behavioral data that spanned both both buy-side (DFA) and sell-side (DFP) – it was brilliant. And after several years, the folks at Google decided to invest in the DFA reporting interface and we now have a Google Analytics like wrapper (except it is now green). Not much improvement on core functionality like reach and frequency reporting, but hey – it is better than ReportCentral.

The fact that DFA has maintained such a large market share since the Google acquisition suggests that client’s aren’t paying close attention to ad serving details. The very notion of pushback from advertisers and agencies is so unlikely that now, Google will also tell you how many of their ads were viewable, too. The Facebook deal is banking on it. For that matter, MediaPlex was absorbed into ValueClick way back in 2001 – they also own an ad network, an affiliate platform and Dotomi.

For Facebook, this is a very smart move although it relies on digital marketers being easily distracted and not looking too closely. In this deal, it is not really about “closing the loop” for advertisers. FB could ostensibly do this now with the much heralded unicorn called the Conversion Pixel or View-Tags. What they are “closing the loop” on is their understanding and ability to datamine what many other advertisers campaigns are doing, and the targets of those ad campaigns and those behaviors across client sites via the Atlas Universal Tracking Tag infrastructure. It probably won’t be long before Facebook offers their own Analytics platform or maybe a Tag Management System. Like its hero, FB is often times ethically challenged when it comes to who’s data is it any way. Just recently, it was revealed that Facebook has manipulated their advertisers’ campaign performance reporting.

That said, Atlas as a platform has faded over the years and needs investment to compete. It’s once advanced approach to attribution Engagement Mapping and stream of research from the Atlast Institute was a favorite among the analytics-minded. Yet, under Microsoft this pioneer of ad serving suffered from functional obsolescence as more site-centric and advanced algorithmic measurement has become more available. At the same time, Pointroll and MediaMind pivoted from rich media platforms to full-bodied ad servers. Many digital ad ops people that used Atlas regularly liked it, but later complained about lack of support. The upside is that Atlas won’t be shutting down anytime soon.

However, digital advertisers and agencies should be on notice now more than ever.


  1. Don’t Buy Technology and Media From the Same Vendor – In a world of digital marketing and an endless stream of bright shiny objects, it should give client-side marketers and savvy agencies pause that this is a serious conflict-of-interest that work against them. Since these ad serving tools are often counting ad impressions and clicks that they themselves sold – there is an incentive for self-serving manipulation.
    • For a better idea of how campaigns are performing leverage tools like Omniture, ComScore’s DigitalAnalytix. Coremetrics and WebTrends.
    • For more advanced attribution measurement look at independent tools like Adometry, Visual IQ or C3.
  2. Don’t Share your Behavioral Data – For the pleasure of sharing your valuable behavioral data, you are probably paying $0.04 oto $0.08 CPM to Google (through your agency and this may be marked-up). In this respect, far too many digital media agencies are dropping the ball on data stewardship and going with what is expedient. Ultimately reflects on them, but it also speaks to rampant client-side advertiser ambivalence or worse ignorance. 
    • For those that insist are intentionally looking to harness their user data, at least get something in return for example by joining a data co-op like Akamai ADS (now part of MediaMath). Privacy policy implications may vary.

    Advertisers and their agencies need to understand the very high proce they are paying. Time to look away from the Google, ValueClick and now the Facebook ad stack and consider other choices toute suite. In terms of ad servers left, the remaining major independent ad servers include MediaMind and Pointroll (though it is technically owned by Gannett, a newspaper company this is not as big a data play).

    Final Thought: Where is the FTC?

    Not sure where the FTC will come down on this but they essentially rubber-stamped the Google-DoubleClick acquisition back in 2007. Arguably this deal really does limit choice for digital advertisers but don’t count on the FTC doing much to scrutinize this. That digital advertisers and their agencies don’t value independent ad serving (and free of back-door data siphoning) is their problem and eventually it will sort itself out. To be sure the digital media ecosystem is complex and constantly-changing and federal bureacrtas are more focused on other more important matters. Plus, ad-serving just doesn’t make headlines like nefarious cookie tracking and consumer privacy.


    Comparing Visits & Clicks…

    In this business, we often get distracted by technologies on the way to the business ends they are supposed to help achieve. The purpose of this post is to outline a basic process that should shed some light on the very thorny issues involved when comparing numbers derived from agency-side ad servers like DART aka DFA and client-side site metrics tools like Omniture.

    Complicating matters is a situation whereby landing page tracking by the ad server cannot be implemented. What to do?
    1. Determine the Purpose. If the marketing objective is performance-oriented, or post-click engagement is essential then you are on the right track. However, if your campaign is focused on a branding objective, how important is it really to get numbers to match?
    2. Choose your Measures. Which measures make sense? Stefane Hamel provides a good backgrounder on Instances vs. Visits. If you are in the paid display advertising/non-search business then most likely clicks and visits are closest; unique clicks and visits/visitors even better. If you are working with search, instances may make more sense…view-through offers even more insight on post-click engagement.
    3. Leverage Standards. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) & Web Analytics Association (WAA) are probably the most relevant industry groups that are working on measurement standards; terms and definitions vary.
    4. Manage Expectations. The reality is that numbers from different systems are unlikely to match; there are a variety of reasons but to make a long story short, they won’t match without serious integration and that has not yet happened. However, the recent announcement of a multi-faceted strategic alliance between agency holding group WPP & Omniture is very promising.
    5. Baseline. Given #1, the best alternative to is to create a simple baseline, e.g. an average over a safe period of time, e.g. a week or a month.
    6. Drop-off/Match. Breathe deep – acknowledge the causes are most likely latency, clickthrough URL parameter coding, landing page tag placement, application filters and counting methods that may never be in sync.
    7. Test & Debug. Understand that campaign trafficking and set-up processes are rife with glitches…clients, creative shops, media agencies and publishers rarely have the staff, or luxury of training to make all of this work flawlessly all of the time. One could spend significant quality time on process engineering these tasks.
    Seems simple enough, right? Easier said than done!

    Dueling Banjos: Reconciling Uniques from Advertising to Site Metrics

    For firms and folks that are dependent on site metrics tools (Omniture, Coremetrics, Google Analytics, WebTrends) to validate or measure the impact on a site from online advertising (take your pick of agency ad servers), Andy Greenberg’s recent article about Omniture may be of interest.

    Andy’s point about the site metrics application being used to gauge the effectiveness of online advertising raises some serious marketing questions. I’ve personally been working on this on and off myself going back to the Web 1.0 days. Our boutique digital agency Streams Online Media Development’s developed the seminal online marketing tracking tool Lilypad to some industry fanfare. Reconciling these numbers today reminds me of the old Dueling Banjos tune.

    Clearly, each tool bring their own technical process for counting and what is important to emphasize. Like how guitars and banjos are just plain different, so are ad servers and site metrics tools. Yet, well-intentioned people may still want to try to make them match.

    As such, many of us continue to wrestle with these resulting issues…but at some level, unless your advertising campaign (paid media) is being measured on response – the benefit of harmonious tracking is academic. It i certainly safe to say that simpatico metrics does not always add value to the marketing.

    Some initial thoughts:

    • Agency Ad Server-Side. Tools like DFA’s Spotlight offer landing page tracking – assuming there are no site limitations on 3rd party cookies (privacy concerns abound). However, this tool does not allow for total unique clicker tracking other than a proprietary sample-based approach. Others like Mediaplex and Eyeblaster offer this feature (mostly used for reach and frequency) while Atlas offers a sample-based approach with an total unique count available for an additional fee.
    • Metrics Tool-Side. Landing page tracking via a method of inserting query parameters into ads (Omniture/HitBox allow this). More interesting are advanced integrations, like Omniture’s Genesis show promise – such tools help sites manage the many tags and cookies from the various technology service providers out there – potentially enabling the comparison of apples-to-apples. Actually this approach is not entirely new, RealMedia’s Privacy Proxy Module for the Media side offered this kind of functionality years ago – alas, many media companies didn’t get it.
    • Universal Cookie. Common unique cookies across networks, medis sites, agencies and clients seems Utopian and unrealistic but would alleviate a lot of these challenges.

    More to follow…