What is ‘the mobile problem’?

Well, the time we spend on mobile is increasing enormously year on year. But for time spent, advertisers spend a lower proportion when compared to almost any other platform.

As Econsultancy’s Ben Davis reported earlier this week, the gap between time spent vs. ad spend on mobile is estimated at 1.9bnGBP in the UK alone and many more times that globally.

So ‘the mobile problem’ is that display platforms, like Facebook, are losing revenue because marketers, like us, are not buying mobile ad space.

We’ll go into the reasons for that in a bit, but that is essentially the problem that Facebook aims to solve. It wants to help us buy more mobile ad space.

Three things you need to know

OK, so what do we, as marketers, need to know about Atlas? How is it going to change the world, especially for mobile?

1. Atlas is an ad buying service

Well, the first thing to understand about Atlas is exactly what it is and how you would use it. Let’s start with the definition from the Atlas website:

With Atlas, advertisers get one place to create, buy, measure and optimize digital campaigns. Atlas enables real-world, people-based impact across devices and the entire internet, at massive scale – something that’s never been available before.

Breaking that down: 

  • Atlas is a service where you buy ad impressions across the web.
  • And it lets you see ad metrics so you can optimize your targeting and creative.
  • The audience targeting is based on who people are, instead of what site they are on.
  • You will be able to target across device.
  • It will be massive.

So, if you’re keeping score here, Atlas will compete head-on with Google’s GDN / Adsense.  It will let you advertise on sites across the web using Facebook audience data.

Interesting, but what else can they bring to the table that Google doesn’t have?  And isn’t advertising ON Facebook the point of Facebook advertising?

OK, those questions take me to point two…

2. You will use Altas to buy ads using Facebook data

Instead of offering more and better targeting on Facebook, Atlas lets you use the Facebook data you know and love and target their users on other websites.  

That is, Atlas will continue to be for buying ads across the web, not on Facebook (where Facebook Ads API and FBX DSPs will be left untouched).

And I think this is one thing that Atlas makes clear – Facebook wants to be more than just the News Feed. They need more space to sell ads and get more revenue.  

That sky-high stock price won’t stay that way for long without growth!

So, how can it sell more ad space?  

Well, just like Google, they bid for ad space on websites and apps and show targeted ads to users using the data they have gathered on Facebook.  

Yes, Facebook is further monetizing the data that its users give them for free.

And that is the first way Atlas is, possibly, better than Google. Facebook simply knows more about us than Google and can make more informed decisions about when to serve us ads – especially ones intended more for brand-building than ecommerce. Which should, in turn, lead us to spending more on ads through them.

And, yeah, that’s kind of interesting, but where this announcement is really juicy is that…

3. Atlas is REALLY about mobile

Anyone who has tried advertising on mobile knows that it’s tricky. Click-through-rates on mobile seem awfully high, yet conversions are hopelessly low.

And you can’t track the user journey to see why. Clicks from mobile apps, mobile browsers, and desktop browsers are not collected into a single ‘user journey’ anywhere.

First, the cookies

To understand why this is, you have to learn about cookies – which are essential to tracking users between ads and conversions. It really helps to know how they work, the difference between 1st and 3rd party cookies, and why mobile differs from the desktop.

To help you, the IAB has helpfully put together a full report on the subject, but to summarize, the reason that cookies don’t work on mobile is that every device has at least two browsers: the web browser, and app browsers. 

And cookies are how advertising platforms track users across the different browsers, computers, etc. that they may use.  

Now, as you can see in the graph, the support for cookies varies greatly across mobile, so many cookies – the tracking data – are lost.  Advertisers simply can’t keep track of who saw their ads on mobile.

The mobile hump

Because of this problem of tracking users across mobile, many marketers experience a ‘mobile hump’. They want to ‘be on mobile’ but they also need to know where and how the mobile ads are working.

And as cookies don’t work well on devices it’s really hard to track user behavior on their device – much less between their device and the desktop.

So they don’t buy mobile ads and Facebook loses revenue.

The solution

Well, Facebook thinks it has now solved this problem.  To see why think about what they know: 

  • Facebook knows who you are – because you have to log in to use their site.
  • They also know all about your mobile device – because you log into their app using your device.
  • Furthermore, they know who you are on the desktop – because you keep yourself logged in.
  • And now they will now know when you are on a site with ad space – because of Atlas.

So, whether you’re on a website, a mobile browser or a mobile app with an Atlas ad space, you will see the same ad.  (And Google simply cannot offer that!)

But how does Atlas do it?

How will Atlas be able to deliver such a great cross-platform delivery service?  Well, frankly, it’s complicated.  

According to a very detailed post on adexchanger Facebook will identify users with ‘a combination of its Facebook ID, its Facebook SDK for apps and mobile device identifiers such as Apple’s Identifier for Advertising (IDFA) and Android’s Advertising ID.’ 

Suffice it to say, that Facebook has done their homework and from many reports it seems that they have the best solution in the industry.

And then, once a Facebook user has clicked – or even seen – your ad, Atlas will keep a record of it. So, when you look at your conversions you can see the ‘customer journey’ across desktop AND mobile.  

If a customer sees your Atlas ad on an app, you’ll know about it.  If they then click on their desktop, you can link that back to the mobile ad.  And then if they convert you can combine all that knowledge and determine whether the ROI works for your business.  

That is, you can now determine whether your mobile ads work – and so you will hopefully buy more of them.


Though new ad tech is always interesting, marketers do tend to dismiss new platforms until they become industry standard.  And that’s understandable as what’s the point of learning about a new technology until your target audience is there so that you can benefit from it? 

Well, Facebook’s Atlas not only has that audience – it IS Facebook after all – but also has solved the cross-platform problem to finally help you get over the ‘mobile hump’.  You can now track your users from mobile impressions to desktop conversions and know what’s working.

That alone is worth the price of getting to know about this solution and trying it out – when it’s available, very soon.