Google’s Ads Data Hub Works For Agencies – But It’s Both A Blessing And A Curse

At the Cannes Lions festival, media agencies made it clear that they’re embracing Ads Data Hub (ADH) ­­– Google’s answer to privacy-safe attribution – despite the implications for independent measurement.

ADH supplies a clean room environment in which agencies can continue to use their own modeling capabilities and data science within Google’s walled garden. Because ADH purports to be privacy safe – none of Google’s data can be ported out – buyers are able to access more data from Google for attribution and measurement than they ever could before, such as YouTube log files, search and event-level data.

“It makes Google a clean, sticky environment where you don’t have as much drop off,” said Megan Pagliuca, chief data officer at Hearts & Science.

In the past, agencies built their attribution strategies around the DoubleClick ID, Google’s cookie-based identifier that ties together user information across its properties. But when GDPR went into effect in the EU last year, Google deprecated portability of the DoubleClick ID in the region and announced it would soon do the same in the United States – effectively breaking independent attribution for buyers.

ADH is the workaround.

For the most part, agencies are glad to get their hands on more data from Google and they’re adopting ADH across the board.

But more access to Google data comes with a price: becoming even more reliant on the platform as it simultaneously acts to cut off external access to its ID.

“As they’ve made less data available externally, they recognized they can’t take this capability off the table,” said Evan Hanlon, chief strategy officer at GroupM US. “The trick is, you have to activate it only within their four walls.”

Close the door

ADH is Google’s attempt to balance the needs of consumers and advertisers with its own interests.

But while ADH ticks the box of privacy while allowing Google to maintain ownership of its proprietary data, the compromise falls short for advertisers, said Richard Lloyd, chief data officer of GroupM in the United Kingdom.

“ADH doesn’t actually solve for the underlying problem – to understand the entire media plan,” Lloyd said. “The vast majority of use cases we’re trying to solve for in ADH today aren’t solvable.”

The issue is exacerbated by the fact that Facebook and Amazon are also both offering similar clean room-style environments of their own. While these do give advertisers a fuller picture of what’s going on inside each walled garden separately, the view is disconnected from the rest of the media plan.

The onus is then on advertisers to use advanced modeling to fill in the blind spots, said George Manas, president at OMD in the United States.

Agencies, however, don’t have much of an alternative. Clients do have the option to continue working with independent ad tech providers for their cross-channel attribution, but they would be missing a huge chunk of user activity without a view into Google.

“In an ideal world, you’d be able to measure across everything,” said Nicolas Bidon, global CEO at Xaxis. “But [solutions like ADH] are needed in a world where brands are worried about leaking data to the ecosystem.”

For some buyers, like GroupM, for example, the Faustian bargain is worth it. Ceding access to independent attribution for a view of Google activity is, Hanlon said, “a value exchange we’re willing to enter into.”

OMD has a similar philosophy. “Creating privacy-compliant data clean rooms to do advanced audience and measurement work is the new norm, as far as we’re concerned,” Manas said.

As a result, agencies are working closer with Google – and becoming more reliant on its ecosystem – than ever before.

“I see us partnering more with Google since the ID deprecation,” Pagliuca said. “They’ve become an even more important player [for] navigating identity-based targeting.”

First-party data = saving grace?

While agencies currently don’t have an alternative to ADH, they are starting to use first-party data to protect clients from over-reliance on Google.

Hearts & Science is building first-party data sets for clients in its audience platform, Omni, and tying them to third-party segments for a more complete view of the media ecosystem, said Renee Cassard, chief audience officer at Hearts & Science.

Similarly, GroupM is using first-party data to tie together a view of media spend across walled gardens.

“More sophisticated approaches to first-party data to be that bridge become more important than ever,” Hanlon said. “It’s incumbent on agencies to build new approaches, whether it’s the next generation of panels or a better way of stitching together inventory.”

In the EU, where the DoubleClick ID hasn’t been available for over a year, relying on first-party data to measure across walled gardens has become the new norm, GroupM UK’s Lloyd said.

Some agencies are even reviving the concept of the meta-DSP that was popular a few years ago.

But regardless of how they hack it, marketers will have a huge blind spot for user activity if they don’t adopt ADH. And less choice for marketers in the ecosystem is a cause for concern, said Joanna O’Connell, a VP and principal analyst at Forrester.

“I find it deeply concerning that there’s less and less choice in the ecosystem,” she said. “I don’t think a lack of diversity of options benefits anyone.”

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