Why British Gas Ditched Google’s Ad Server
Google has maintained its dominant share of the ad server market because switching ad servers is a hellacious process that requires a hard reset on media plans, analytics, creative and billing.
But Google’s announcement last May that it would remove the Google ID from its ad-server log files, thus prohibiting marketers from tracking or measuring Google audiences with external technology, was the impetus for some advertisers to reconsider their ad server.
British Gas, the United Kingdom’s largest energy supplier, was evaluating multitouch attribution tech last year to measure Google campaigns without relying on the DoubleClick ad server (which Google has since rebranded) and Google Analytics. But Google’s log file restriction made the outside attribution program untenable if Google remained the ad server, said Patrick Smith, the brand’s digital marketing manager.
By blowing up British Gas’s attribution plans, Google sparked a strategic conversation about the company’s data practice, Smith said. British Gas could recommit to the Google stack and build its identity asset using Ads Data Hub, the Google marketing cloud product where Google IDs are now sequestered, but it couldn’t use that data anywhere else. With an independent ad server, it's first-party data owned by the brand.
British Gas instead chose to migrate to a new ad server, Flashtalking, where it would own the ad-server data and could maintain independent attribution, Smith said. The brand would never have made the change if there weren’t strong product alternatives available from independent players for some Google ad-server features, such as dynamic creative and contextual targeting.
The ad server transition was “not as painful as I expected,” Smith said. The brand’s tech team worked with its media agency to reset tags and current campaigns, but it didn’t take long to rebuild its cookie pool for targeting and measurement. He said the most difficult change was for its creative agency, which had to switch from Google’s well-known production workflow.
British Gas’s speedy ad server turnaround, which took about three months, was hastened by the need to finish by the start of Q4 or risk complicating the critical sales and marketing season.
Google delayed implementing its log file restriction policy, which initially was to be enforced by 2019 but now won’t apply globally until 2020 at the earliest, letting brands postpone ad server reviews. But since the policy is live in the EU for GDPR compliance, European brands didn’t have the luxury of time before making their decision.
“The fear of switching boils down to the fact that most marketers haven’t had to think about their ad server since whenever they first signed up for DoubleClick,” Smith said. “Maybe the Google stack is still right for your brand, but what the past year has shown us is that brands should at least be thinking about their ad server and how it fits into the overall data picture.”