Facebook is apparently moving away from the cookie — and it may announce its plans for a new mobile ad network this Monday at Advertising Week.
There is mass speculation across the virtual ad world that the Menlo Park-based social kingpin will very soon unveil a new, more advanced mobile marketing paradigm in a bid to knock Google, the number-one player in the mobile ad space in terms of pure revenue, off the block. The platform will rely on Facebook’s trove of raw human data with less dependence on cookies for deploying and tracking mobile campaigns. And word on the street is Facebook, number two in mobile ad revenue behind Google, may unveil its new platform this Monday at the ad industry’s annual event, which opens next week in the Big Apple.
“Our gut says that this will be mobile-centric and built on Facebook data using Facebook identification instead of cookies. Where I am super excited [is] the focus on measurement and cross-channel attributions, like being able to track users between desktop and mobile — it’s impossible otherwise,” said David Hirsch, a Google ad veteran who spent eight years at the company.
Hirsch joined Google in 2000 and was a founding member of the company’s advertising team. In fact, he was involved in the creation of the first iteration of Google AdWords. Today, AdWords has emerged as one of the Google’s top revenue generators and has helped push Google itself to the as yet undisputed king of the mobile ad spend. These days, Hirsch runs Metamorphic Ventures in New York.
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There is a lot at stake in the mobile ecosystem — and Facebook recognizes this.
About 500 players currently occupy a space that amounted to over $17 billion last year, a number expected to crest $35 billion by the end of 2014, according to eMarketer. Ad brokers, ad exchanges, retargeters, publishers, and analytic outfits currently operate within it, all vying for a piece of a pie that eMarketer projects will grow nearly 100 percent year-over-year for the foreseeable future. That’s because more Americans are getting comfortable relegating more responsibility to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
“They are busy building something behind those doors, and there’s clearly a gag order for the people I met with on the advertising side not to talk about it,” said a mobile executive who works closely with Facebook who requested anonymity.
In order to buttress its mobile offerings, Facebook has acquired 15 companies since 2013, including mobile analytics, back-end, and app companies such as WhatsApp for $19 billion. But numerous people interviewed for this story strongly believe that whatever the new platform turns out to be, it will have some genesis in Facebook’s purchase of Microsoft’s ad server Atlas Solutions, in February 2013, for a sum estimated to be in the region of $100 million.
The reasoning follows that Facebook engineers have been heavily souping up the formerly Windows-centric ad platform, building cross-channel features into it. And whatever Facebook unveils, sources told VentureBeat, it’s likely to include at least some of the remnants of the original Atlas platform.
“If marketers and agencies can get a holistic view of campaign performance, they will be able to do a much better job of making sure the right messages get in front of the right people at the right time,” Brian Boland, Facebook’s director of product marketing, said on a blog post at the time of the Atlas acquisition. “Atlas has built capabilities that allow for this kind of measurement, and enhancing these systems will give marketers a deeper understanding of effectiveness and lead to better digital advertising experiences for consumers.”
Indeed, Valerie Davis, PM Digital’s veep for search media, told VentureBeat in an email that Facebook may actually be relaunching Atlas itself, albeit with tweaks.
“Of course, this is all theoretical as we haven’t seen it live yet, but in my opinion, the relaunch of Atlas will give Google’s DFA [DoubleClick For Advertisers, an ad management service] a run for their money,” Davis said. “Facebook has seemingly managed to solve this device-agnostic ad-targeting obstacle ahead of Google, which will definitely set them apart.”
“However, Google will remain the clear winner in the space until Atlas has a proven record of success,” Davis added.
Facebook has been steadily chipping into Google’s mobile marketing ad dominance since last year. In 2012, Google had 52 percent of the mobile ad market, and the following year, that number decreased to 49 percent. It now stands at about 46 percent. Twitter is also catching up.
At the end of the day, the Facebook workers toiling like Santa’s elves behind closed doors, building, tweaking, and polishing their new mobile-centric platform, will likely to be another game changer, ad veterans told VentureBeat. Despite its weight, Facebook assuredly is still agile enough to surprise even the most jaded technologists.
“We are moving from a world of inferred data and social signals to real human data. Facebook has evolved from a ‘social’ network to a social and communication operating system that seems to be ubiquitous with how people spend their time online,” Hirsch said.
“We have gone from a world of thinking about mobile-to-mobile strategy, to mobile-first, to mobile-agnostic with … iOS and Android, eventually to mobile only.”