Advertisers see Google’s new DoubleClick ID rules cementing its dominance

Four months after Google blocked advertisers using its DoubleClick IDs to support their measurement and attribution in Europe, and it’s clear to some advertisers that the replacement isn’t ready. Life without the ID was meant to push advertisers toward Google’s Ads Data Hub as an alternative, but has made it harder to measure true reach and frequency instead, 

The frustration of those executives isn’t so much that Google is keeping measurement and attribution within its walled garden — “that’s almost a given with Google,” said one agency executive on condition of anonymity — it’s that Google removed the ability for advertisers to verify whether what it tells them is true and didn’t offer an alternative. The hub, which is still in test phase, isn’t a replacement for the DoubleClick ID yet because it doesn’t balance the need to protect the platform’s data with advertisers’ need to directly access it, said the executive.

Advertisers can share user-level data within the hub with third-party measurement vendors like Moat and Nielsen. Those companies, however, must use Google’s own data for measurement. The only way a marketer knows their ad has reached the same person across different placements is if they buy all media through Google. That makes it yet another way a seemingly esoteric and mundane mechanism serves to further cement Google’s dominant position in the digital ad industry.

“This update will likely increase our industry’s dependence on Google — possibly disguised as a General Data Protection Regulation update — and further establish it as the gatekeeper,” said Aydin Moghaddam, head of paid search and social at Roast.

This is one of the biggest issues one global advertiser has with Google, said its senior marketer on condition of anonymity. Like many others, the advertiser had been reliant on the DoubleClick IDs to optimize, target and attribute its media, but now has to make some big changes, particularly for the latter point.

For the advertiser to perform cross-site frequency management or consider multitouch attribution modeling, it needs an ID that is common across publisher sites as well as their own sites. Every exchange provides some solution to this. The DoubleClick ID is Google’s.

“We’re having to think about how we rebuild our attribution models without that DoubleClick data, and instead look at proxies and estimations that aren’t going to offer the same detail,” said the advertiser.

Ad buyers are already asking their existing ad tech vendors to provide data on the same ad impression that Google won’t in Europe in order to create of patchwork of data to replace the one, unified tracker they had across everything.

“Google can’t risk 4 percent of global turnover just to satisfy attribution modeling for advertisers so I understand why the company made the call to block DoubleClick IDs but the decision could potentially put it at a huge disadvantage,” said Anna Forbes, gm for DSP The Trade Desk in the U.K. “We’re building out full-funnel attribution to actually give it that insight and make it full-circle so that you can optimize and learn against that first-party data and understand how your media activation is influencing that to drive sales and ROI for advertisers.”

A Google spokesperson said: “Ad reporting is an important part of the digital ecosystem, and we are committed to partnering with advertisers and partners to help refine strategies, including investing heavily in the expansion of Ads Data Hub.”

Google would not comment on the record on when it would extend the ban on DoubleClick IDs, but a source close to the company said no action would be taken before the end of 2019. A firm deadline was never announced, said the source, who added that an update on the timeframe was announced online last month.

“Google publicly told everyone the ban on DoubleClick IDs would go into effect later in 2018 and has now privately told people it will end in 2019 after they received more questions on the final date,” said Victor Wong, CEO of independent ad server Thunder Experience Cloud. “Google said the ban was GDPR-related as it had already gone ahead and done it in Europe. However the rest of the world isn’t under GDPR and so Google is able to push back the deadline later so it’s clearly not necessarily GDPR-only. It is partly to do with protecting consumer privacy and partly to do with protecting Google’s primary asset — its data on its users, such as what devices they use.”

In principle the hub could yield better person-based reporting, because Google can apply its own ID graphs in generating reports. Advertisers and agencies, however, want more transparency into the integrity of the underlying data passing through Google before they commit, per the ad buyers interviewed for this article. 

“What each platform wants is better performance than other alternatives, but imperfect measurement between them, said Ben Tregoe, svp of revenue at ad tech company Nanigans. “This enables silos of spend and keeps budgets sticky and prevents budgets from moving too quickly or rapidly between publishers. What they don’t want is third-party measurement of effectiveness and then frictionless movement of ad spend between any publisher.”

The move away from DoubleClick IDs comes as Google looks to scrap the brand completely. In June, it announced it retired the brand amid wider plans to streamline its advertising business.

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