How Will Universal User ID Impact Publishers' Programmatic Advertising?
Back in May, MediaMath, Acxiom/LiveRamp, Index Exchange, Live Intent, and a few other prominent, non-Google/non-Facebook, ad technology players made an eye-opening statement by announcing their intention to create a “Coalition for Open IDs.” Their goal is to create a single universal ID that connects someone’s identity across all devices and participating providers.
Not much has been publicly heard from the group since, but it is still intriguing to think of the ramifications of such an offering.
The High Cost of Cookie Leakage
Since the days before Data Management Platforms (DMPs), when technology providers such as Audience Science and Tacoda offered publishers the magic of “behavioral targeting” as a means to increase the value of their difficult-to-sell areas of content, we have heard of the dangers of “cookie leakage.” This occurs when a third party, such as a DMP, drops an invisible pixel on a publisher’s page as a means of “cookie-ing” the user’s browser.
Through this third-party cookie, which is essentially one of many “user” IDs stored in the visitor’s browser, the DMP is able to match respective website visitors to their activity and collected data on other websites. “Cookie leakage” typically occurs when users clear their third-party cookies and break the link from the browser to the rest of their stored data. If consumers later authenticate themselves through a log in, this data linkage can be reestablished. Otherwise, the historical data is left orphaned resulting in “leaked audience data.”
As programmatic advertising took hold, many players began using tactics like these in order to identify users during their part of the ad delivery chain of hell (the one in which about $0.55 of every $1.00 spent by an advertiser actually gets to the publisher). Even with the dawn of cookie-less environments in mobile, alternative ID mechanisms such as a device ID suffer similar leakage as the old-fashioned cookie. The most recent exasperation of ID leakage has been driven by the dream of cross-device tracking, which simultaneously utilizes several ID-ing mechanisms, for cross-platform ad targeting and attribution tracking.
User Authentication Complicated by Multiple Mediators
Google and Facebook have thrived in this chaos because they provide more “authentication” tools than anyone on the planet and have more qualified declared data for reconnecting “leaked users” to their historical data. Additionally, they share a single ID, respectively, across most, if not all, of their tools.
For all of the other players in the programmatic ecosystem, including supply-side platforms (SSPs), demand side platforms (DSPs) and other DMPs, the necessity to match users across their diverse ID sets as a programmatic ad delivery decision is made has become a very cumbersome and leaky process. For example, the major complaint with server-side header bidding is that the primary/mediating SSP will get to identify users directly through their IDs, while the other/secondary SSPs will then have to match IDs to the primary mediator.
If we look at the programmatic advertising ecosystem, we can identify all of the points where ID matching between distinct players has to occur:
This poses a few primary questions:
- If a Universal ID were to eliminate all of these ID matching steps, would programmatic transactions be faster and more efficient?
- If the answer to #1 is “yes,” can this eliminate or, at least, lower the cost of some of the “tech tolls” that exist between the buyer and the seller of the programmatic ads?
- With a Universal ID existing across many of their competitors, will we see a crack in the current advantages held by Google and Facebook?
Though it is too early to make an educated assessment, I believe that that answer to all three will be, at some varying degree, “yes.” Thus, the pursuit of a Universal ID by the existing participants with, hopefully, participation by others, is potentially a very positive and game-changing expedition.