Why The Trade Desk’s unified ID may be catching on

Although part of the Ad ID Consortium and the DigiTrust efforts, the major DSP is populating the ad ecosystem with its own solution.

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In the quest to improve cookie ID matching, the efforts by the Advertising ID Consortium and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)’s Tech Lab’s DigiTrust have attracted a lot of the attention.

But major demand side platform (DSP) The Trade Desk points out that its emerging unified ID is a third, separate initiative, even though the company belongs to both the Consortium and the DigiTrust efforts.

Down to two or three solutions. “This isn’t competitive,” Trade Desk SVP of Inventory Partnerships Tim Sims told me. The key objective, he added, is to reduce the hundreds of ad tech firms that have to match cookie IDs with hundreds of others, down to the two or three single ID solutions.

The Trade Desk’s solution may be catching on. In December, for instance, the supply side platform (SSP) Index Exchange said it was the first SSP to share results for The Trade Desk’s solution, citing match rates of 99 percent. And, on Thursday of this week, TripleLift — which says it is the largest comScore-ranked native ad SSP — announced it had integrated The Trade Desk’s unified ID solution.

The key driver behind all three initiatives is the poor accuracy rate of cookie ID matching between the players in the ad ecosystem.

The cookie ID matching problem. Currently, virtually every ad tech firm drops a cookie into a user’s browser at various stages in their web browsing, but there’s a catch: a domain can’t read a cookie dropped by another domain. That means that, if www.thetradedesk.com drops a cookie, it can’t be read by any other company that has its own domain.

But ad buyers, inventory sellers, data providers and others want to recognize the same user in different contexts, so they can target ads, limit the frequency of showing the same ad, and better understand the user’s behavior.

That’s where the current massive, and inefficient, matching of cookie IDs comes in.

It is common for a SSP to request an ad bid from a DSP for a given web page, passing the SSP’s ID in its cookie inside the bid request.

The DSP then drops its own cookie into that user’s browser, with its own user ID, and matches its user ID with the SSP’s. The same dropping of cookies with IDs, and ID matching, is conducted when the DSP calls out to a data management platform (DMP) for targeting data, which also drops its own cookie with its own user ID.

The same cookie ID. In addition to being a massive matching effort, this process is highly inaccurate. Match rates above 60 percent are considered decent, which means that it’s common for a large percentage of user IDs to remain un-synched and therefore unrelated to other cookie-based history.

The efforts by the Consortium, DigiTrust and The Trade Desk are all driven by a desire to get these match rates closer to 100 percent.

While a consistent cookie ID could benefit brands, because they could get closer to having the persistent user identity enjoyed by walled gardens like Facebook’s login, Trade Desk’s Sims pointed out the key driver here is improving match rates and “less about the brand need for an ID.”

In The Trade Desk’s unified ID version, other ad tech firms would get access to The Trade Desk’s user ID that it employs in its cookie, and then write that same ID for their cookies.

That ID can be obtained via access to user IDs in The Trade Desk domain, or by grabbing the ID from the header wrapper on web pages from a partner in the project, the ad exchange Index Exchange. This avoids a cookie-dropper having to read the cookie dropped by another domain.

Still many cookies. It doesn’t, however, solve the problem of so many cookies — which some users dislike, and which are transient — but it could solve the problem of having to match cookie IDs. Every firm still drops and reads its own cookie, but each uses the same Trade Desk ID for a given user. Rather than a system of matching cookie IDs, The Trade Desk’s solution — like the other two — offers a kind of central ID issuing service.

Compared to similar single-ID solutions offered by the Consortium and DigiTrust, Sims said, The Trade Desk already has a huge footprint in the digital advertising industry. Additionally, he noted, the Consortium differs in that it also offers a supplemental matching to LiveRamp’s IdentityLink cross-device, offline/online identity ID. And, he noted, DigiTrust’s solution requires a monthly fee for platforms, while The Trade Desk’s solution is free.

Like DigiTrust, however, The Trade Desk’s cookie ID solution is focused only on desktop web browsing at the moment. Sims said his company could “potentially” expand at some point to mobile web and apps, where cookies are problematic but where there are mobile device IDs.

Why you should care. “The real issue [for a marketer] is that ‘I spend an enormous amount of time and effort to understand my customers,’ ” Sims said. Some of this time and effort could be reduced, and accuracy increased, if every ad tech participant employed the same ID in its cookie for a specific user.

As a major DSP, The Trade Desk can implement a unified ID solution across a large swath of the ad ecosystem by itself, avoiding the organizational imperatives inherent in the Consortium and the IAB Tech Lab/DigiTrust initiatives.

In any case, it remains to be seen if one or more of these efforts increases the efficiency of cookies, or simply adds one more layer of complexity to an already complex digital ad infrastructure.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Barry Levine
Barry Levine covers marketing technology for Third Door Media. Previously, he covered this space as a Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and he has written about these and other tech subjects for such publications as CMSWire and NewsFactor. He founded and led the web site/unit at PBS station Thirteen/WNET; worked as an online Senior Producer/writer for Viacom; created a successful interactive game, PLAY IT BY EAR: The First CD Game; founded and led an independent film showcase, CENTER SCREEN, based at Harvard and M.I.T.; and served over five years as a consultant to the M.I.T. Media Lab. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at xBarryLevine.

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