February 28, 2013, 5:21 PM

Facebook amps up its ad arsenal

The social network plans to buy Microsoft Corp.’s Atlas Advertiser Suite.

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Facebook Inc. today announced plans to acquire Microsoft Corp.’s Atlas Advertiser Suite business, which offers ad-serving tools that help retailers and other marketers place and monitor ads on web sites. Microsoft owns a small stake in Facebook.

Facebook says it plans to devote the resources to ramp up the suite’s back-end measurement systems and enhance its tools to make Atlas the “most effective, intuitive, and powerful ad serving, management and measurement platform in the industry.”

By acquiring Atlas, Facebook hopes to attract more direct-response marketing dollars, says analysts.

“It’s a monumental acquisition,” says Lou Kerner, a social media analyst and investor at The Social Internet Fund. “It shows Facebook’s intent to become a major player in serving ads off of Facebook and to leverage the immense amount of data on Facebook with data off of Facebook.”

The announcement, he notes, dovetails with the social network yesterday expanding the targeting options for its Custom Audiences tool to enable marketers to incorporate external customer data from digital marketing vendors Datalogix, Epsilon, Acxiom Corp. and BlueKai. “Facebook is focused on serving the most relevant ad to consumers,” he says.

Even so, there are analysts who think a Facebook ad network won’t be the immediate result of the deal. Facebook for now is under pressure to demonstrate to marketers that its ads are effective, says Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at the business research and advisory firm Altimeter Group. That’s clear from a recent survey in the Social Media 300 that found only 38.7% of advertisers said they believe their social media ads generated a clear return on investment.

“Facebook is under a lot of pressure to show the effectiveness of advertisers’ campaigns,” she says. “Facebook needs to be able to connect the dots between when a consumer saw an ad and then took the desired action.”

By acquiring Atlas, Facebook is on a path to delivering those types of insights, she says, because the ad server offers marketers hordes of metrics that show what consumers do after seeing ads. 

The move is similar to Google Inc.’s 2008 acquisition of DoubleClick in that it provides the social network with visibility into consumer data, behaviors and how ad campaigns influence shoppers, she says. And Facebook’s acquisition may enable it to offer marketers a more holistic view of their campaigns.

And that’s Facebook’s goal, the social network says.

“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,” writes Brian Boland, Facebook product marketing director, in a blog post. “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.”

Facebook says the Atlas team will remain in Seattle, where its business is based.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Microsoft is No. 74 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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