Sharing The Trade Desk’s Unified ID will not end adtech disruption
The Trade Desk has made its universal identifier available to the industry, but advertisers may be looking for alternatives as adtech disruption continues.
Unified ID 2.0, widely described as a “North Star” among various attempts to create a single universal identifier, has been an open source project since its inception. But it was led by and fully associated with global advertising platform The Trade Desk.
Until last week, anyway, when The Trade Desk handed it over to Prebid.org, the open source header bidding wrapper. What’s the significance of that move, and does it advance the case for Unified ID 2.0 to be embraced as the industry standard — one identifier to rule them all, one identifier to bind them?
Handing off Unified ID 2.0
But first, what is Unified ID 2.0? It’s not simply a collection of hashed or encrypted emails. The preferred term for the glue which holds it together is “authenticated log ins,” because it can also use, for example, phone numbers. In principle, it could work based on any identity token voluntarily offered up by a consumer. (Unified ID 1.0 had served only The Trade Desk users.)
The Trade Desk had always intended to hand off Unified ID 2.0 to a third party, to assuage concerns that it was taking competitive advantage, but had felt a need to be closely involved in developing it to maturity. To any observer, the universal identifier space has indeed looked increasingly competitive, especially among more or less pure play identity providers like LiveRamp and Tapad.
Prebid.org has been widely adopted
And what, exactly, is Prebid.org? We asked Phil Bohn, SVP of Sales & Revenue at ad management platform Mediavine, a Prebid.org member (others include Media Math, LiveRamp, Tapad, and of course The Trade Desk).
“Prebid.org was started about four years ago by a few of the top SSPs and programmatic players,” he said, “as a way to bring all the different technology pieces together around one open source technology which runs something like 70% of the advertising stacks on the web. It’s been widely adopted and pretty heavily used. In the last year and a half, it’s really grown with data members and publishers getting involved and taking on some of the trickier questions that take all of us getting together to talk about.”
Currently, for example, a taxonomy group is looking at the fragmented way in which contexts are described in bid requests. There’s also an identity and privacy group. Prebid.org is free; any publisher can adopt and use it. “It’s the mechanism that connects to the different exchanges out there, receives bids and passes them through,” Bohn explained.
A time for testing identity solutions
Although The Trade Desk has essentially made Unified ID 2.0 available to the industry in general, there’s no sign that alternative solutions are going away. “At Mediavine we have LiveRamp integrated with our Grow.me product” (an audience engagement framework which encourages users to give up first party data to publishers).
“We’re talking with probably five or six others that we’re interested in hearing about and integrating with. Most of them have a little bit of variation of how they’re collecting or passing the data, or where the data sources are. This is the time for testing and implementing — we have no idea what advertisers are going to adopt or like.” Advertisers and marketers are in a testing phase too, said Bohn. “We don’t know where it’s all going to land.”
Meanwhile, large brands become walled gardens
Cheetah Digital is a customer engagement solution which specifically serves marketers. CMO Richard Jones had some critical thoughts on the current divided state of identities. “It reminds me of Brexit,” he said (Jones, based in Colorado, is British). “Everything’s going to be okay. Really? There are one or two workarounds which will get prominence, and people will move forward.”
Jones points to an alternative approach that enterprise advertisers are taking. “People like P&G and Starbucks, they have been meticulously working over the last couple of years or more to isolate themselves from this adtech disruption by building out very strong direct-to-consumer connections. P&G has built a database of several billion people, which means they can do two things — attribution, because they’ve got their own data-sets, and connecting directly to consumers on their own channels. Starbucks is doubling down on personalization through data collected in its own channels.”
An effective loyalty app, said Jones, obviates the need to rely on Facebook and Google. Large brands become, in effect, their own walled gardens. “We’re going to see that snowballing in the next year or so. I don’t think disruption is going to go away, and I don’t think privacy is going to let up.”
Where does that leave smaller brands? “They’ve got a lot on their plates without looking at the future of adtech, but every single connection with a consumer, the first priority should be to get their details — their email address, their consent.”
In addition to collecting first-party data and doubling down on loyalty programs and direct-to-consumer connections, Jones speculates that brands might return to mass reach advertising. An additional option for publishers is combining contextual data about content with information gathered from polls and surveys about user preferences, motivations and desires. “They then sell that package to advertisers. I hope that this is an opportunity for publishers, who have been hit hard by the rise of digital to come back, because they’ll be able to move in an agile world of collected data quicker than a Facebook will be.”