Here’s Why Facebook Likes Microsoft’s Atlas Ad Server

fbthumbsupFrom my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

After spending years trying to dump its Atlas online ad-serving business, Microsoft reportedly is in talks with Facebook to sell the unit that helps advertisers and ad agencies place ads on websites and track their impact.

The news comes five months after Microsoft wrote down nearly the entire value of its $6.3 billion acquisition of aQuantive, of which Atlas was a part. Following its recent move to de-emphasize its own ad tech, Microsoft has been shopping the unit around, most recently to AppNexus. Business Insider reports that before Facebook talks began, the highest bid Atlas got was $30 million.

There’s no guarantee the deal will happen. But why is Facebook interested? Some speculate that it’s a way for Facebook to close the final technology gap on a plan for an ad network, similar to Google’s AdSense, that would place Facebook ads on other websites. Could be. But I tend to agree with one AppNexus Senior VP that there’s an even bigger goal that goes along with that: proving Facebook ads work.

That has been the No. 1 social network’s overriding task for the past year, especially since its underwhelming IPO. It has released vollies of case studies showing how its ads actually do spur sales down the line. But for whatever reason, most likely the difficulty of applying success by one company or industry with its social ads to others, many advertisers and agencies remain skeptical.

Atlas would enable Facebook to track the impact of its ads, which it’s already quantifying through a deal with Datalogix, which tracks in-store sales, not just on Facebook but on other websites as well. Privacy advocates are not happy about the Datalogix deal, and adding an Atlas-powered ad network won’t make them any happier.

But Facebook may finally be on the verge of closing the elusive loop between its ads and ultimate sales that result from them in a way that to date no one but Google has done really well and on a huge scale.

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Did The Bubble In Facebook Ad Startups Just Pop?

A little crowded, perhaps? (Source: LUMA Partners)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

For much of this year, hundreds of little and not-so-little startups that help businesses run advertisements on Facebook have been playing the M&A game, buying rivals or related companies, getting acquired by bigger firms, or both. But the acquisitions were sometimes for big bucks, fueling a sense that the opportunities were huge for social marketing startups.

It’s not hard to find social marketing firms still thriving, but suddenly it’s looking a little more like a game of musical chairs. And while it would be easy (and wrong) to say the music has stopped, it’s becoming clear that a chunk of those firms will find themselves without a seat as the social media biz starts to mature and its growth chart no longer looks like a straight line up and to the right.

The recent struggles of Facebook and other social media firms such as Zynga aren’t new, of course. They prompted some folks to wonder if the social media bubble had popped a couple of months ago. But it appears now that advertiser uncertainty about social media is starting to hit the still-crowded ecosystem of social media marketing and ad firms.

Today, Salesforce.com laid off about 100 people from two social-media acquisitions, Radian6 and Buddy Media. Although it may not be surprising given likely job overlaps–and the fact that Buddy was losing big bucks before the sale–the layoff suggests that the market for social ads isn’t big enough to accommodate all the players that have sprung up in recent years, or at least all the employees working for them.

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Facebook: Yes, Our Ads Work, Chapter 16

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Facebook has spent much of the past year furiously trying to persuade skeptical brand marketers that ads on its service work. In particular, it wants brands with large fan bases on Facebook not to assume that–like General Motors apparently did when it pulled its Facebook ads just before the No. 1 social network’s May IPO–they can simply post stuff to their Facebook pages and call it a day.

Its latest salvo: A new report conducted with market researcher comScore that tries to quantify the impact of paid ads vs. “organic” brand page content.

Some highlights from the report, which includes case studies of Samsung Mobile and two unnamed “major” brands, a retailer and a financial services firm:

• Leading brands on Facebook can use paid media to extend their total brand reach beyond the reach they achieve using organic media alone. Among a selection of 100 top brand pages on Facebook, those using paid media reach an audience that is on average 5.3 times larger than organic audience alone, and 5.4 times greater than the total audience of top brand pages using no paid media with a similarly sized fan base. …

Read all the details at The New Persuaders.

LIVE: Facebook Shares Soar As Q3 Ad Revenue Growth Accelerates

DAVOS-KLOSTERS/SWITZERLAND, 30JAN09 - Mark Zuc...

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Photo: Wikipedia)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

After a rocky several months following its May IPO, Facebook finally provided some good news today as it reported third-quarter financial results that outpaced Wall Street expectations.

The key number: 36%. That’s the rate at which advertising revenues grew. And it’s noticeably higher than ad sales growth in the second quarter, which had flagged at 28%. Excluding the impact of foreign currency changes, ad sales would have risen 43% in the third quarter.

Mobile revenues, a key metric for a company that until recently had zero mobile ad revenues and offered little of note to its mobile users, were 14% of the total $1.09 billion in ad sales.

The other key number: 9%. That’s how much shares are rising in after-hours trading. Shares of FB rose a little less than 1%, to $19.50, in trading today. That’s still only a little over half of the IPO price.

* Update: Make that 20%+. After sleeping on it, investors like the results even better the next morning.

Facebook still faces many challenges, such as the need to provide a better mobile experience for users and advertisers. And thanks to rising expenses, including stock compensation and related costs–up 64% from a year ago–it’s actually losing money on a GAAP basis. But if advertising is returning, whether it’s from more interest in its social and mobile ads, in the Facebook ad exchange that’s getting a lot of attention, or even in the new Gifts e-commerce service, that’s good news.

We’ll hear more from CEO Mark Zuckerberg shortly when Facebook conducts its analyst earnings call at 2 p.m. Pacific. I’ll blog the highlights here, but you can also listen to the livestream.

The call begins. Zuckerberg will talk about the vision and strategy of the company–make the world more connected, etc. Three pillars to the strategy:

1) Build the best mobile product. This is the most misunderstood pillar. Mobile allows us to reach way more people, people spend more time on mobile devices, and monetization should be even better than on the desktop.

2) Improve the Facebook platform.

3) Strong monetization engine. On mobile, ads will be more like TV–more integrated into the core product experience, rather than on the side. We’re starting to see better ad products for people and better results for advertisers.

I want to dispose of this notion that we can’t make money on mobile. Until recently, Facebook didn’t even try. …

Read the rest of Zuckerberg’s comments and his Q&A with analysts at The New Persuaders.

Google CEO Larry Page Speaks! Big Reveal: $8 Billion In Mobile Revenues

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Investors have had a chance to digest Google’s third-quarter earnings longer than they expected, but they still have indigestion over the disappointing results. Can CEO Larry Page (yes, he will speak!) and his executives provide a Maalox moment on their earnings analyst call?

We’ll find out shortly, starting at 1:30 p.m. Pacific. You can watch it here as well. Keep refreshing for updates through about 2:30 p.m.

Update: It looks like Motorola was the chief culprit. Yes, less lucrative mobile ads seem to be a factor, but not one Google seems overly concerned about–it’s at least the third time I’ve heard executives say that mobile eventually could be better than desktop ads. Indeed, I was struck by the mention that one reason for the rise in costs that led to lower profits was sales of the probably near-zero-margin Nexus 7 tablet–which was striking for a single, non-advertising product. For better or worse, Google’s betting big on mobile, from ads to devices, and expects whatever shakes out to be positive. Investors clearly aren’t so sure.

And we’re underway. Page still has a strange froggy voice–seriously, really strange like he inhaled too much helium, so I can understand why he hasn’t spoken much in public. Anyway, he’s keeping his remarks short. You can read the prepared remarks on Google+. We had a strong quarter, he says, and I’m really happy with our business. Revenue was up 45% from a year ago.

Today, we leave in a world of abundance–abundant information and abundant computing. Many of us feel naked without our smartphone. Google is super-well-placed to take advantage of these opportunities. We’re seeing tremendous innovation in mobile advertising. Eventually, he adds, it will work even better than desktop ads.

We took a big bet on Android back in 2005. Most people thought we were nuts. Today, there are over half a billion Android devices, with 1.3 million more being activated every day. He suggests everyone go out and buy a Nexus 7 tablet.

Our run rate a year ago for mobile advertising was $2.5 billion. Along with apps and Google Play, it’s now over $8 billion. That’s quite a business, he says mildly–though based on the new way it’s calculated (see below), it may not be as amazing as it seems.

We had spread ourselves too thin. We sunsetted 17 more products last month. It’s more important than ever we converge our services.

We want to make advertising super-simple for our customers. Today, separate campaigns for desktop and mobile makes it more difficult and mobile opportunities often get missed. Advertisers should be free to think about their audience while we do the hard work optimizing across channels.

That’s the gist of his first widely public remarks (he spoke the other day at Google’s Zeitgeist event to the media elite).

Now CFO Patrick Pichette goes into some detail….

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Advertising Experts: Ignore Google’s Earnings, It’s Doing Just Fine

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

After reporting disappointing third-quarter earnings, and giving investors a few extra hours to sell their shares to boot, Google saw its shares hammered before trading was halted. But while Motorola Mobility, which Google acquired for $12.5 billion in May, clearly is a big drag on the company, ad folks say its core business is just fine.

Bryan Wiener, CEO of the digital marketing agency 360i, a specialist in search advertising in particular, says Google’s core business still appears healthy. The only hitch, he says, is that mobile ad prices per click are still 30% to 50% lower than desktop clicks, but he says that gap is narrowing as mobile cost-per-click continues to rise.

The main issue is not so much that advertisers view mobile ads as less effective. There are actually two other issues.

First, there’s still less competition for mobile ad space. And since Google ads are sold by auction, less competition means lower prices.

Why is competition less? That brings up the second issue: It’s not yet clear precisely what impact mobile ads have. They don’t work exactly the same as desktop ads, where people customarily conduct a search, click on an ad, and then a certain percentage buy the product. That’s easy to track.

On their mobile phones, however, people are more often searching for a store, rather than looking to complete a transaction online. They may well end up buying in that store–some companies are starting to provide ways to track that connection, and marketers anecdotally know it’s happening–but separate databases for online and store activity still means it’s tough to close the measurement loop.

Wiener thinks that will get solved eventually. Even in the short term, mobile search ads that are still Google’s bread and butter are better positioned to show their value than mobile display ads, which may appear in hard-to-track apps and still aren’t standardized enough for marketers to spend big bucks to reach broad scale. That means Google for now is likely to fare better in consumers’ rush to mobile than, say, Facebook and Yahoo. “Everybody is still bullish on mobile search,” says Wiener. “But it’s still very early in the game.”

Looking ahead to the fourth quarter and beyond, says Wiener, “our clients are cautiously optimistic” about search ads in particular despite the uncertainty of the economy and the election. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

3 Reasons Google Missed Q3 Earnings Estimates

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Google’s shares plunged this morning by 9% after the search giant’s third-quarter earnings came in considerably lower than expected. The results were accidentally released hours earlier than expected, leading to a halt in the shares’ trading for a time.

Google earned a $9.03 per share profit before certain expenses, far below the $10.63 Wall Street consensus estimate, and down 20% from a year ago. GAAP profit was $6.53. Net revenues after paying partners for traffic were $11.53 billion, up 19% from a year ago. That also missed the Street’s estimate of $11.9 billion. Paid clicks, a key indicator, rose 33% from a year ago, and cost per click, another key measure but one whose meaning is murky, fell 15%.

So what happened? Here’s a quick assessment, which will be supplemented in a new post following the 1:30 p.m. Pacific earnings call:

* Costs jumped. They were up 71%, to $11.4 billion. It appears much of that increase came from Motorola Mobility, which Google acquired for $12.5 billion in May. After all, the acquisition added more than 20,000 employees. As Citi analyst Mark Mahaney said in a note to investors: “Bottom line divergence partly due to Amortization expenses, which came in at $317MM vs. our $197MM estimate. That contributed perhaps $0.40 of the EPS shortfall.” Update after the earnings call: But not just that. CFO Patrick Pichette specifically mentioned costs of selling the likely near-zero-margin Nexus 7 tablet Google released during the quarter–a single product line, so the company’s is clearly pushing it hard.

* Motorola losses were huge. The unit posted a $527 million loss on a GAAP operating basis. Mahaney again:  “Another major delta was Motorola, which generated $151MM Op Loss vs. our $28MM estimate.”

* Ad revenue didn’t set records. It was up 16% from a year ago. Although lower cost per click isn’t always an indicator of a problem, in this case, the fourth consecutive decline has investors wondering anew if it’s due to the lower prices mobile ads get or even competition from the likes of Facebook. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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