Why A Unified ID Is Critical To The Open Internet, Journalism, And TV

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Jeff Green, CEO at The Trade Desk.

There is an index for the equities markets that tracks volatility called the VIX, used by many to gauge fear or stress in the market. If there were a VIX for advertising (maybe there will be someday), it would have doubled or tripled since Google wrote its blog post a week ago regarding its approach to identity technology and the replacement for cookies.

Since that post, I’ve spent a lot of time with clients and partners that have worked with us to develop Unified ID 2.0 (UID2), correcting misinformation, and interpreting Google’s recent moves. I’ve also spent time with Google, more than usual, in the last week discussing the future of identity and our partnership. I’ll come back to the partnership, but spoiler alert: It’s in good shape.

Most of the biggest brands and content owners I’ve talked to this week don’t believe Google is proposing a solution for consumer privacy on the open internet. If anything, it has accelerated moves among the biggest brands, agencies, publishers and TV content owners to adopt UID2 in order to do that work.

Google is protecting itself. That’s okay, and to be expected. They have one of the largest and arguably most sensitive pools of personally identifiable information (PII) on the internet within its own four walls, so promoting itself as privacy-centric is smart. Living up to it is honorable.

But let’s be clear. Google is not proposing a solution for the open internet. Google is not announcing that it is ceasing the use of PII. I believe Google will continue to rely on PII and its billions of email-based logins to target ads on publishers that they don’t own.

(Ed: A Google spokesperson said this is not accurate).

I believe Google is sincere in raising the bar on privacy in its ecosystem. Like almost everyone, I tell Google everything. When I have a problem, I google it. If I need advice and information – whether it’s about my health, my relationships, my children, or anything else – Google is there to help me. So we should all be glad that it is focused on making things more secure. The jury is out on whether FloCs accomplish that or might make it worse, but that isn’t really the point of its post last week. Google is trying to secure its ecosystem. Their ecosystem.

But what about the rest of the internet? The one where all of journalism and this amazing new era of CTV content lives – and pretty much everything else for that matter?

Last year, the ad tech community came together to create a replacement for cookies. It was an unprecedented industry-wide collaboration. Why? Because we’d all learned from the past. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was fresh in memory. As an industry, most publishers waited to implement GDPR changes until CPMs dropped. And then together we played catch-up, working to implement changes that should have been carefully and deliberately implemented along the way. The industry learned its lesson. And this time, it’s better prepared.

The governance organizations for advertising, such as the IAB and the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media (PRAM), all wanted a replacement to cookies, but it had to meet certain criteria – and those criteria were all-encompassing. It needed to be more secure, give consumers more control, explain the value exchange of free content on the internet more effectively, enable third-party governance, maintain efficacy for advertisers, and preserve yield for publishers.

Thanks to this unprecedented and timely collaboration, UID2 checks all these boxes. And it’s never been more necessary.

Think about the current state of TV. We are in a new golden age of TV content, which has kept most of us sane during the past year as we’ve worked from home. Personally, I never want to see the “now showing ad 1 of 3” to turn into “now showing ad 1 of 10”. But without data-driven advertising, it will.

Most consumers can’t afford new TV subscriptions without offsetting the cost with ads. If we turn $30 CPMs that come from targeted ads into $10 CPMS that come from untargeted ads (or ads from only FLoCs), we’ll be back to a linear-like ad load with a linear-like efficacy. And in that world, we won’t be leveraging data to optimize the experience for consumers, advertisers and publishers.

For this reason, it was very telling that one of the first adopters of UID2 was Nielsen, the gold standard in media measurement. As Nielsen innovates its measurement tools for a cross-channel advertising environment, it’s deploying UID2 because it will become a new common measurement currency across all digital channels on the open internet.

Think about journalism, which has often struggled with the shift to digital, but is currently coming out of recovery and poised to thrive. 10 years ago at a conference in San Francisco, I spoke to hundreds of leaders of the biggest newspaper companies in the United States and reinforced that their success would depend on their ability to put programmatic advertising next to their content. I believed that then and I believe it now. Without targeted advertising, journalism will struggle and the number of journalists doing important work will massively shrink to a few scaled outlets.

This is why I’m so encouraged that one of those scaled outlets — The Washington Post and its technology arm, Zeus — has adopted UID2 well in advance of the phasing out of third-party cookies early next year. That means that the hundreds of smaller news outlets like the Miami Herald, The Seattle Times, and The Dallas Morning News that use Zeus can get higher CPMs from targeted advertising.

As a consumer, the health of journalism and the quality of TV content is important.

As the CEO of The Trade Desk, I also want to live up to the principles I outlined in our S1 before we went public. “Our mission is to help our clients compete in the marketplace of ideas – the place in media and public discourse where ideas and messages compete in the open market for the mindshare of men and women around the world.”

I also want to live up to the small sign that my grandfather hung on his office wall: “God bless my competitors, because they make me better, faster, and stronger.”

I want there to be a marketplace of ideas. I want a competitive marketplace. I don’t want a monopoly – or an oligopoly. I want to help other companies thrive, and I want the market to be vibrant. That’s what motivates me.

That is the beauty of the open internet. It is an open market where competition inspires creativity, innovation, progress, and efficiency. And when companies compete, consumers win.

In the wake of Google’s announcement last week, some even suggested that the ad industry should embrace walled gardens, monopolies, and concede the internet to Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. None of those companies are even asking for that. In fact, quite the opposite. They’re not focused on the open internet.

And this is why a unifying ID is so important. UID2 is for the open internet. It’s for TV, and news, and consumers. As a consumer, I prefer fewer, more relevant ads. Most consumers do. And we don’t want all of our data in any one company. UID2 was designed with a philosophy to give consumers control. Data doesn’t move unless a consumer wants it to, and unless the consumer gives consent. Even the use of the ID requires consent that has to be given explicitly to each site or app. There is no central data base or company that controls it. The consumer does.

Key to this consumer control is a log-in for the open internet based on an email address, similar to how consumers log in to the fastest-growing channels of the digital ecosystem today, such as CTV. This puts the consumer in control in a way that was never possible with cookies and would never be possible if the internet only consisted of a series of walled gardens.

Regarding our partnership with Google – it is not a monolithic, singular entity with a uniform point of view. Google is one of the world’s largest companies with different divisions that have different goals and interests. There are many at Google who love The Trade Desk, perhaps because we are evidence of a competitive market, and some who don’t like us as much, perhaps for the same reasons.

But our partnership with Google Ad Manager (GAM) and its ad exchange is strong. Our discussions this week have focused on how GAM can continue to support its publisher base by giving those publishers the power to utilize IDs that preserve data driven advertising, such as UID2.

I suspect it is not lost on most AdExchanger readers that in a world without cookies or unifying IDs, there is little need for ad exchanges. And Google did not announce that is it shutting down Google Ad Manager. It also did not announce a spinning out of DoubleClick or that it is reducing DV360 to a buying tool for YouTube. And so this collaboration continues. We’re a happy client and expect that to continue.

Ultimately every big tech walled garden is dealing with increased privacy scrutiny. As a result, none of them will take actions that will hurt the open internet. If anything, they’re trying to stay out of it.

For the rest of the ad tech industry, that makes our mission very clear. We must develop an alternative to cookies that preserves the value exchange of relevant advertising for marketers; helps consumers make better, more educated decisions; and enables TV content owners, journalists, and publishers to monetize their content and create more of it.

And that’s why there has been so much positive UID2 momentum from all corners of the industry in a very short period of time.

I’m glad the advertising VIX is up a bit. It is driving the biggest players in media into action.

Follow The Trade Desk (@TheTradeDesk) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Jeff,
    The point we made in our article was not to cede the internet to Google and Facebook, but that publishers need to take control of their own future by building their own walled gardens - just like Walmart, Roku, Snap, and many others have done. It is their data. Their audience. Their understanding of their users. And it is powerful.

    The problem, as we see it, is that to choose not to control their own future, leveraging the assets that they have, is to cede control.


  2. Concerned Publisher

    A discussion about privacy standards and the usage of UID2 as a viable solution really should contain a link to the open source code of said solution. You can't possibly be taken seriously by "consenting users" through a closed-box system. It's time TTD put their money where their mouth is. Google's solutions are all being discussed in the open with code samples on github but one can't say the same for UID2.

  3. I am unclear how this helps top publishers, can you explain? For the long tail pubs the benefits are obvious--they never could self monetize. However, for those who have compelling content and scale, it feels as though the proposed solution democratizes their content down to lowest common denominator (in terms of how compelling the content is) ESPN does not want to be leveled down to a Conde Naste. It seems those with scale would monetize at higher CPM's if they went their own way. Large scale pubs can bring durable IDs to bare that can be enriched by 3rd pty data sets and site activity. As I understand, that would not be possible with a shared ID. Further, pub ID sets will be used to help sell inventory as it will be inextricably linked to a piece of PII. (Supported by Disney building their own media platform at a +9figure cost.)

    Doesn't the unified ID support the TTD objectives more, than those of the greater industry...or at least large scale publishers?


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