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Do Advertisers Need Cross-Device Ad Targeting Guidelines?


directionsAlthough the stakes for delivering ads across different devices are rising, marketers still struggle to gauge the effectiveness of cross-device ad targeting platforms, which are largely unregulated. Introducing standards on cross-device ad targeting could potentially make it easier for marketers to implement these technologies, but there are numerous issues that must be addressed before the space can mature.

The two most common approaches to cross-device ad targeting involve either connecting user data across properties and devices through a login system (e.g. Google and Facebook logins) or making an inferred guess about users based on different pieces of data.

Due to the limitations of using cookies on mobile devices, vendors like Tapad, Drawbridge and Adelphic offer probabilistic solutions that rely on a combination of device attributes and other data to determine which devices most likely belong to a single user.

While each vendor has its own technology, many analyze device attributes like the operating system, device type, IP address, user agent and fonts combined with information like bid requests and location data. Using that information, vendors claim they can help advertisers serve ads to the same user across different digital devices.

Industry organizations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) and the Media Ratings Council (MRC) have yet to issue statements on whether cross-device ad targeting guidelines are being developed, but marketers and vendors have already given the topic some thought.

Without a set of standards, it is difficult for advertisers to know which solution is the most effective and privacy-friendly, noted Tim Dunn, director of mobile at digital agency Roundarch Isobar. Guidelines for cross-platform ad targeting would serve two purposes, according to Dunn. The first purpose is to get in front of potential federal regulation. “The FTC has already been alerted to the emerging possibilities in cross-device targeting,” Dunn said.

The second purpose is that guidelines would help establish industry best practices—and that these commonly-accepted techniques would help advertisers offer clarity and transparency to their brand clients.

Drawbridge COO Eric Rosenblum agreed. “It would be good for the industry as a whole to adopt a standard around reach and accuracy to compare different players against each other and understand what people are talking about when they’re talking about numbers of individuals and devices,” he said.

Dunn added that marketers and vendors also need to agree on which devices the guidelines refer to. “Is it enough to be looking at mobile, tablet and desktop, when we have a new raft of multimedia games consoles, connected TVs and the long-fabled Internet fridge about to hit the mass market?” he asked.

Yet, some vendors don’t see a need for guidelines in this space. Setting guidelines could potentially “stifle competition and innovation” argued Adelphic CEO Michael Collins, who added that vendors should instead be “measured on their ability to hit campaign KPIs.”

Whether or not discussions about standardizing cross-device ad targeting solutions develop further in the near future, marketers are moving ahead in investing in the space. According to a survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and Nielsen, the percentage of media budgets dedicated to multiscreen advertising is expected to rise from 20% in 2013 to 50% over the next three years. As advertisers pour more money into multiscreen advertising, being able to identify and reach users across the various screens will become increasingly critical, as will proving to clients that those ads were served up in the manner promised.

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