Microsoft to Sell Atlas Online Ad Platform to Facebook

Facebook gets serious about online advertising by snapping up Microsoft’s online ad serving platform. But don't count the software giant out, says Microsoft.

Facebook is acquiring the Atlas Advertiser Suite, Microsoft's online ad-serving and measurement platform, to boost the social media giant's advertising business. Terms have not yet been disclosed, but reports place the deal's value at $30 million to $50 million.

Atlas addresses the shortcomings of a fragmented online marketing landscape, according to Brian Boland, product marketing director at Facebook. Currently, online marketers are at a loss in terms of managing and ascertaining the effectiveness of cross-channel campaigns.

"Marketers and agencies struggle to understand how their efforts across different channels complement and strengthen each other. Consequently, they are forced to adopt siloed marketing strategies for each channel, leading to poor and inconsistent end-user experiences," Boland wrote in a Feb. 28 company post outlining the deal.

Microsoft's ad platform remedies that.

"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. 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," Boland said.

Facebook reported solid earnings Jan. 30 on the strength of mobile advertising. Amid signs that Facebook fatigue is setting in, the company is under pressure to keep that momentum going and stake a more decisive claim in the online advertising ecosystem.

Integrating Atlas, which signed on in June 2012 as an approved Facebook partner for ad measurement, helps heighten the company's profile in the online advertising market. "Ultimately, Atlas's powerful platform, combined with Nielsen and Datalogix, will help advertisers close the loop and compare their Facebook campaigns to the rest of their ad spend across the Web on desktop and mobile," Boland wrote.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is quick to point out that the Atlas deal doesn't spell doom for the software company's online advertising ambitions.

Microsoft is nowhere near calling it quits, Tom Phillips, senior director of communications for Microsoft Advertising, asserted in a company blog post. He stressed that "in no way does this announcement change or diminish our commitment to online advertising, in either display or search."

Microsoft acquired Atlas when it bought aQuantive for $6 billion in 2007. And there were challenges along the way, Phillips admitted.

"The online advertising business, and our place in it, has evolved significantly since we acquired aQuantive (and by extension, Atlas) more than five years ago," he said, adding that Microsoft's plan for a single ad technology platform and tools stack "became more challenging given significant changes in the industry ecosystem, technology platforms and content consumption (the 'appification' of the Web)."

Cutting Atlas loose is a sensible play, Philips said.

Microsoft's strategy today involves looking beyond ad delivery and measurement. Instead, the company is exploring how to deliver compelling content and experiences that please consumers and marketers alike. Philips stated, "The continued investment in third-party ad-serving technology like Atlas, while important, is less of a strategic pillar for our business than it once was."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...