On Sept. 29, the ad server Atlas made its return. Acquired by Facebook from Microsoft in 2013, Atlas sits at the intersection of many ad delivery vehicles, monitoring performance and optimizing creative across platforms. Facebook has retooled Atlas, filling it with all the data the social network has on its 1.3 billion users around the world. With Atlas, Facebook will be able to serve ads to the same individuals across browsers and devices on a wide range of demand-side platforms, ad networks and exchanges around the Web -- taking the power of Facebook advertising to the whole internet.
Facebook's head of advertising technology, David Jakubowski, thoughtfully dubbed this the arrival of "people-based marketing,” because, with Facebook’s anonymized data, Atlas can help brands follow targeted audience around the web on an individual level. This is precision advertising, and for that reason it’s exciting.
Historically, connecting the dots of a consumer's journey across digital touch points has been difficult. Lately, mobile has made it more complicated, because mobile browsers and apps don't support cookies well.
Atlas will make reaching individual people possible -- in a way that properly protects identities. But this does not mean we’ve arrived at the end of advertising innovation. Just because digital advertising is less complicated doesn't mean it's simple. If you speak to a data scientist about Atlas (or watch this TED Talk), you'll arrive at a critical realization: In mathematical systems, the definitions of “complex” and “complicated” are very different.
A complicated system involves many unique parts, each of which plays a unique role. For example, a clock is complicated, because every cog in it is different. On the other hand, complex systems are generally comprised of a vast number of individual parts, many of which are the same or similar. Technically speaking, the human brain isn't complicated; it’s complex. There are only a few types of brain cells, but that doesn’t make the brain simple.
Translation: As Atlas and other systems like it come online, advertisers will face a future that's less complicated but arguably more complex. Instead of speaking to loosely defined audiences across poorly defined customer journeys, brands and agencies will have to get better at analyzing, understanding and grouping the like objects in the system: people.
This is good news for those brands and agencies, of course. Human problems are the natural habitat of great marketers. What’s even better, their best technology partners will turn away from solving less compelling problems like connecting the dots and proving ROI – and instead focus on solving for human complexity, thus realigning with the heart of marketing and advertising.
People-based marketing, indeed!
This is where Big Data will really take off in ad tech, and that's why the ad tech arms race is only just beginning, not coming to an end.
Understanding the future of advertising means understanding humans. But human behavior is one of the most complex things around. I'm excited about what Atlas means, and I believe it has a good chance to change advertising forever. But my job as a marketing technology CEO is hardly done. If you're a marketer or advertiser, the good news is -- neither is yours.