The ad tech ecosystem is a tangled mess of identity data. The struggle to accurately track users while respecting privacy has been the white whale of the industry for years. However, without a widely adopted universal solution in place, industry players continue to drop their own unique cookies on users to enhance ad targeting and scale business. As the identity webs of users become increasingly entangled, more and more of the ecosystem has come around to the idea of adopting a universal ID.
Why we need universal IDs
The need for a unified ID is in part driven by the existence of walled gardens like Facebook and Google. The ubiquitous nature of their non-ad-tech businesses means they have huge advantages when it comes to identifying users and targeting them accordingly.
As a result, Google and Facebook rest comfortably on their troves of deterministic data gleaned from user authentication while other companies endlessly maintain cookie syncs with as many partners as possible.
A universal ID would help level the playing field by expanding and maintaining reach for all universal ID adopters. Jessica Berman, senior product manager at SpotX and member of the IAB’s Identity Standards Working Group, notes that “if we had an identity solution similar to IFA where every partner used a single identifier, the whole sync chain would cease to exist. Not having to rebuild entire match networks for each user means fewer match pixels firing and lower latency for consumers.”
The leading in-market universal IDs
While industry members recognize the need for a universal ID, as is frequently the case, implementing one is easier said than done. In a manner reminiscent of the format wars of yesteryear, there are multiple candidates in-market today. The largest of these include: the IAB Tech Lab’s DigiTrust ID, The Trade Desk’s unified ID, and the Advertising ID Consortium. Fortunately, in stark contrast to the format wars, each of these IDs happens to support the others in some way shape or form. For example, even though The Trade Desk has their unified ID, they’re also a participant in DigiTrust and maintain a seat on the Advertising ID Consortium’s board. Here is a bit about each of the leading IDs:
- Digitrust: DigiTrust is the oldest initiative in the market. Originally an IAB working group, it spun out and was later reacquired by the IAB Tech Lab. As a neutral third party, it provides a straightforward appeal, however, prior to being folded back into the IAB, DigiTrust frequently lacked the resources to compete toe-to-toe with the larger, scaled members of the ecosystem.
- The Trade Desk unified ID: The Trade Desk’s unified ID has also been seeing heightened adoption. As one of the largest DSPs in-market, The Trade Desk naturally has an extensive cookie footprint which makes it an excellent candidate for hosting a universal ID.
- The Advertising ID Consortium: The Advertising ID Consortium is also an appealing option for many members of the ecosystem with their stated mission of “democratizing identity for the advertising industry”. Though they had a shaky start with the departure of AppNexus from the board, the advertising ID consortium currently operates within three cookie spaces: DigiTrust’s, The Trade Desk’s, and, though they have stepped out of their leadership role, AppNexus’. Further, the Advertising ID Consortium takes identity one step further by leveraging IdentityLink, a people-based solution from LiveRamp, one of the founding consortium members.
SpotX and universal IDs
SpotX has been a member of DigiTust for years, and our CTO, J. Allen Dove, is currently an active participant in the working group. Further, we also recently announced support for The Trade Desk’s unified ID.
From our point of view, we believe that universal IDs will increase match rates across the ecosystem and enable a seamless ad targeting and delivery experience for both participants and end users.
Though the idea of unified IDs has been around for years, it seems that any specifics are still somewhat hazy. However, we’re confident that we’re beginning to move in the right direction.
This article was written by Albert Wang, product marketing manager at SpotX.