Ad ID Consortium: the long march to identity resolution in the programmatic ecosystem

Media Consulting 3 May 2019

Among all the challenges faced by the programmatic industry, identity resolution is probably the most critical one.

Identity resolution, or how to solve the user journey puzzle

Identity resolution is the process by which various signals (web browser cookies, device ids, hashed emails,phone numbers and the like) are stitched together to get a unified picture of an individual across various devices and channels.

It is table stakes, because people access content across computers and smartphones and they buy products both online and offline: according to Statista, the number of connected devices used per person should almost reach 7 by 2020! Without resolution, all users are treated as different, incomplete identities, thus leading to poor customer experience personalization and skewed attribution.


The programmatic ecosystem is all about identity

Bidding on display impressions based on users’ demographics, interests or past behaviours is highly dependent on the ability to share anonymized identifiers between sellers and buyers, through sell-side ( SSP or Ad exchange) and buy-side ( DSP) platforms.

The technical workflow is pretty standard and theoretically straightforward when you only have one seller and one bidder:

  1. an ID matching server call is randomly triggered by SSPs with each single DSP
  2. a resulting User ID matching table is hosted by the SSP
  3. the DSP’s user ID is appended by the SSP to each bid request

However, it has proven extremely challenging for the industry to maintain strong ID matching tables across dozens of SSPs and DSPs, resulting in far too many server calls and far too low identity resolution for most players.

What does this lead to? Brands miss valuable impressions and publishers do not monetize inventories to their full potential, simply because the user IDis lost at some point in the process. With an estimated  reach loss of 30% on average , the issue has been raised to a key priority at the RampUp 2019 conference.

How to work it out

Enter the Advertising ID Consortium, a group of sellers, buyers and data providers that have decided to join forces and remove existing friction in the programmatic chain.

Initiated in the US and led by independent industry leaders Liveramp (data), The Trade Desk (buy-side) and Index Exchange (sell-side),—as well as IAB’s DigiTrust—the Ad Id Consortium creates a new standard to share anonymized user level data between publishers and brands within programmatic ecosystems.

Why do we need a consortium?

“The Advertising ID Consortium, Inc. was created [in 2017] to enable buyers and sellers of programmatic advertising an opportunity to leverage a two-part identity framework of common cookies and people-based identifiers to create more relevant campaigns and improve user experiences.”

Advertising ID Consortium, Official website

Participating SSPs and DSPs can choose one or several of the 3 consortium’s approved identity providers for their user ID matching process, to eventually replace their tedious existing workflow with every single adtech partner. Then, SSPs append new widely accepted user ID parameters in the bid request, which all participating DSPs can lookup against for their bidding decision.

Easing the ID matching process is great, but improving ID resolution across devices and channels is even better. That’s where Liveramp plays a major role, with the RampUp 2019 announcement that they will now give away for free to both buyers and sellers their IdentityLink, a unique identifier across desktop and mobile, cookies, device identifiers and hashed emails or phone numbers.


Is it a lost battle?

There is certainly a long way to go before all programmatic impressions are sold through a universal, cross-device identifier.

First, not all players are interested in participating, and we can doubt the success of a standard that neither Google nor Amazon is endorsing.

Second, the consortium regroups a mix of competitors and indie players looking for an exit plan, which has an impact on the long-term common agenda. Appnexus used to be the consortium’s backbone nine months ago, until AT&T brass decided to refocus the company on programmatic TV within the Xandr unit.

Last, an industry-wide initiative to improve how third-party cookies are passing user IDs across ad tech vendors looks like an old guard battle in an ITP world, where first-party data is paramount.

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