A New Policy from Google Has Major Implications for Online Advertisers


While the long-awaited rollout of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) dominated trade press news cycles for the first quarter of 2018, another equally disruptive change to the digital ecosystem, announced in the shadow of the GDPR's looming deadline, went comparatively unnoticed: On April 26, 2018, Google surprised the industry by announcing that user IDs and partner IDs would be removed from the reports and log files of its DoubleClick ad-serving platform. (Last month, the search giant announced DoubleClick will be rebranded as the Google Marketing Platform.)

The change, Google announced, would go into effect for EU advertisers on May 25 (the same day as the GDPR), giving the industry a mere 30 days to prepare. The company also announced the same changes would be enacted in the U.S. before the end of the year.

The implications of Google's announcement are significant, and the pain is already being felt by European advertisers and ad tech providers who have relied heavily on the DoubleClick ID for data linkage and alignment. The loss of the ID effectively creates new obstacles to independent measurement of Google's data, so advertisers are faced with a decision to reduce their reliance on the Google ecosystem or to accept the lack of transparency and interoperability that comes with the new Google stack.

Why DoubleClick IDs Matter

DoubleClick Campaign Manager (DCM) is the global leader in ad serving, with estimates claiming it holds more than 70 percent of the market share. That estimate, however, does not include ads served by Google AdWords, which, if included, would push Google's ad-serving share past the 90 percent mark.

The DoubleClick user ID (DC ID) is an anonymous identifier that is issued to a browser when an ad is served or clicked on by a user. Historically, DC IDs have been used to link ad activity to external data, website analytics, and attribution providers who provide independent measurement of audience delivery, reach and frequency, engagement, and performance of media. Due to the ubiquitous nature of DC IDs (there are billions of them), they became the cornerstone upon which thousands of commercial and in-house measurement and analytics stacks were built. This includes data unification, management, and analytics stacks developed by brands, agencies, and most of the ad-tech supply chain.

Without user IDs, DoubleClick advertisers' ability to use independent third parties for a number of critical functions is made significantly more difficult and, in some cases, impossible. These include verifying delivery, reach, and frequency at the user level; analyzing cross-channel engagement; performing multitouch attribution outside of Google's own measurement tools; measuring and optimizing ad creative (beyond click-through rates or last-touch KPIs); or incorporating offline transaction data to measure sales attributed to online ads. What's more, DoubleClick advertisers won't be able to incorporate third-party device graphs to analyze the cross-device customer journey; use third-party location data to measure offline store visits attributed to online ads; or analyze user-level data to understand customer interests, behavior, and preferences. In this light, it's easy to see why advertisers are up in arms over this seemingly innocuous development.

As a replacement for independent analytics, Google now offers Ads Data Hub (ADH), an environment for doing user-level analysis. While it seems reasonable from afar, a closer inspection shows a number of deficiencies that advertisers need to be aware of. First, ADH does not allow advertisers to employ machine learning models; the data can be queried, but one cannot perform routine analysis of it. Second, ADH does not expose user-level data; queries are limited to groups of 50 or more. Third, advertisers can't export data from ADH, which means DCM customers seeking multitouch attribution must use Google's own Analytics360 offering — and with that, the acceptance of letting Google mark its own homework while having a view into all media purchased from other publishers and programmatic vendors.

Strategic Choices

When Google's new policy rolls out in the U.S. later this year, DoubleClick advertisers will have some big decisions to make. Media buying decisions aside (Google will likely continue to be the biggest source of online ad inventory), advertisers will need to assess the tradeoffs of continuing to use the Google Marketing Platform. While Google's integrated stack offers ease and convenience, it comes at the cost of data transparency, objectivity, and independence. Simply put, advertisers will have to accept the limitations of the Google stack or migrate to an open, independent ad platform.

For advertisers who value control of their own data, or who believe in checks and balances and wish to separate media sales from delivery and measurement, there are alternatives to the new Google Marketing Platform. Leading DMPs, DSPs, and ad-serving platforms are more and more interoperable with open, integrated ad stacks that minimize friction and eliminate conflicts of interest. By joining forces, these service providers enable advertisers to realize the promise of data-driven marketing, while maintaining flexibility, independence, and ownership of their data. Specific use cases include:

  • Activating first- and third-party data to target the right audiences at scale — with full transparency and control

  • Using first- and third-party data to personalize each impression for greater relevance and resonance

  • Mapping the customer journey across cookies, devices, and screens for a holistic view of user engagement

  • Connecting online engagement to offline conversions, including sales, store visits, and brand lift

  • Measuring and optimizing media through independent analysis of reach, frequency, and multitouch attribution

While choosing an ad server may have been a tactical decision in the past, the decision has now become a very strategic one. As the platform that aggregates and unifies data to connect audiences, media, and creative, the ad server has become the source of truth in the pursuit of verifying and measuring delivery and performance of media and creative. The removal of the DC ID illuminates the dilemma that has been looming for years: Should ease and convenience outweigh transparency and objectivity in this high-stakes game of digital disruption? That is the question each advertiser will have to answer — now sooner than later.

by Steve Latham, Global Head of Analytics

Originally published by the ANA

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