For years, digital marketers have been shackled to an increasingly outdated technology known as the cookie, which are still used to measure and target digital ads.

Cookies — bits of code dropped into web browsers — are known to generate poor approximations of how many people view a digital ad, inaccurate estimates of how many times any given individual sees an ad, not to mention unreliable measures of clicks and sales. Worst of all, cookies are a non-starter within mobile apps.

This has been causing the digital marketing world a large amount of pain. Businesses are trying to figure out the right digital spend per channel, what is the true attribution of their customers and how to manage the various touch points of the customer conversion funnel.

Now Atlas has been around for a while, but after Microsoft let it rot away Facebook has redeveloped the technology from the ground up and tightly woven in their social layer and single customer tracking capabilities. Facebook has really ramped up it’s off platform marketing capabilities with this offering and with purchases

Atlas’s services purport to solve the “cross-device” problem, where marketers struggle to relate the browsing activity on a user’s phone to what they do on their computer. This has become easier to an extent with Facebook profiles and logins, but Atlas also plans to add “partners” that “cross search, social, creative management and publishers” to track how ads are viewed and how successful they are on multiple “channels and platforms.”

Ultimately, ads served based on cookies can’t be connected to users’ behaviour offline. Atlas’ integrated system, by contrast, will be able to follow users from “first contact to the final sale, whether online or off.”

Atlas is notable for how it leverages anonymous Facebook identity data to correct cookies’ inaccuracies and shine a light into what’s happening within the cookie-less world of mobile apps. In addition, Atlas’ ambition is to be able to connect offline purchases and conversions to digital ads shown across mobile and the web.

In short:

  • Facebook’s Atlas is an ad server that also allows ad buyers to measure, target, and optimise digital and mobile ads across digital (i.e., not just on Facebook). Atlas operates separately from Facebook, does not access personal information from the social network or share marketing data with Facebook.
  • Atlas is pitching itself primarily based on the claim that it can go far beyond cookie-based measurement to more clearly establish the ROI of digital ads, particularly when mobile is involved. Taking measurement beyond the cookie means marketers can focus on metrics beyond the last click, and observe the multi-device process that often leads in purchasing online or offline.
  • Atlas’ ambition is also to be able to connect offline purchases to digital ads shown across mobile and the web. To do so, it must have access to advertisers’ customer data or consumer data from third-party data vendors.
  • Atlas has a particularly strong advantage when it comes to measuring mobile ads. Cookies don’t work in mobile apps, so many marketers are flying blind when it comes to in-app ads. Atlas matches device-ID data with anonymised identity data of the user that accesses Facebook on the same device.
  • It’s important to remember that Atlas works with ad buyers, not ad sellers. Some major brands and agencies are already using or at least testing Atlas.
  • Despite some clear advantages, Atlas has some crucial limitations. The principal one is that it will be very difficult for Facebook to wean the digital-media ecosystem off its reliance on Google’s DoubleClick platform, which is so well-entrenched.

The opportunity is huge and Facebook have the means, data and resources to make this a success.