tl;dr DoubleClick logs are used today by marketers for verification, attribution modeling, and other analysis beyond what is available in standard DCM dashboards.
Log-based analytics require a device or user identifier, so DoubleClick’s removal of the DoubleClick ID represents a disruption of the status quo for log-based analytics solutions.
Fortunately, DCM logs are not the only source of log-level data, or even the best. Brands and agencies increasingly use tracking pixels from measurement vendors that have access to deterministic IDs as a replacement for ad server logs and to support more advanced analysis. Skip to the end if you are just looking for a list of recommendations.
Google’s announcement last Friday that DoubleClick is removing the Doubleclick ID from its logs resulted in panic in many corners of the digital advertising world. What is the DoubleClick ID? For that matter, what are logs and why do people use them? Confused as to what the big deal is?
Here are the answers:
Beginning on May 25, DCM will stop populating the hashed UserID field (which stores the DoubleClick cookie ID and mobile device IDs) in DoubleClick Campaign Manager and DoubleClick Bid Manager (DBM) logs for impressions, clicks and website activities associated with users in the European Union. DoubleClick intends to apply these changes globally, and will announce timing for non-EU countries later this year.
What this Means for Advertisers
DoubleClick, like most adtech platforms, provides reporting dashboards to monitor performance KPIs. While dashboards provide a good summary on performance, they can’t answer more granular questions that marketers want of their data. That’s why many marketers ingest logs from their ad servers and DSPs. These logs are broken out into impression logs, click logs and site activity logs.
In order to perform custom analytics with these logs, the logs need to share a common identifier, so that the marketer can tie together recorded impressions from multiple sources (DCM, DSP, etc.) that belong to the same person, as well as clicks and site actions from that person.
That common identifier is generally the cookie ID or, in the case of mobile app ads, mobile device ID. DoubleClick currently has a field in all of their logs called UserID that stores a hashed version of the DoubleClick cookie ID or the mobile device ID tied to an impression, a click or a site action.
By removing this field from their logs, DoubleClick is effectively ending their support for ad server logs that are used for analytics, verification, measurement, or attribution modeling. Without the UserID field, marketers can no longer tie together impressions, clicks and site actions. For example, if you were previously filtering suspicious traffic based on frequency of engagement, you will no longer be able to do so (because each row becomes unique without a deduplicating identifier).
The alternative proposed by Google is for marketers to pay to use the dashboard found in the Google Ads Data Hub. The big issue with this approach is that the marketer has to trust Google to grade their own homework, making the marketing standard “trust, but verify” approach all but impossible.
As a result, brands and agencies using DoubleClick logs will no longer be able to independently:
- Verify frequency by cookie or person
- Count total ad exposure by person
- Analyze true reach of media placements and campaigns
- Compare reach and duplication by media placement and campaign
- Attribute or de-duplicate conversions and clicks
- Report on user conversion rates
- Identify unique site traffic
What’s the Back Story
This announcement is part of two trends in the market – GDPR as a pretext for raising the walls of walled gardens, and the shift from logs to trackers to collect data for custom analytics.
First, Google is saying that the upcoming EU law, GDPR, is forcing them to do this, something many pundits have questioned. Walled gardens are continuing to grow taller, and increasingly are leveraging privacy concerns as the pretext for doing so. Media sellers are also now further pushing their own measurement and attribution solutions in a bid to grade their own homework and prevent cross-platform comparison.
Google has built a more full-featured measurement and attribution product that is currently in pilot with selected large brands known as Google Attribution 360, part of Google Ads Data Hub. The announcement to remove the DoubleClick ID from logs is connected strategically to the broader release of Attribution 360 later this year. In fact, Google Ads Data Hub was even plugged in the email to agencies informing them of this change.
Second, this announcement is a reaction to the trend of measurement and attribution vendors disrupting the importance of ad server logs, making Google’s decision seemingly reasonable.
Marketers are increasingly relying on vendors to improve their accuracy through features that are not a part of the traditional ad server log. Specifically, savvy marketers want (a) cross-device graphs and (b) the ability to perform causal attribution modeling. Neither of these goals are unlocked by DCM logs today, leading to the emergence of an ecosystem of measurement platforms, each with their own trackers tied to a cross-device graph for data collection. Of course, one such vendor is Google, whose Attribution 360 offering has both of these advanced features.
As such, DoubleClick’s announcement simply represents a formal passing of the torch in responsibilities from the ad server to the measurement provider for those marketers who have already reduced their dependence on DCM logs.
Brands and agencies need to identify vendors who can provide tracking and measurement capabilities (full disclosure – Thunder Experience Cloud is one such vendor). This change needs to occur before current dashboards built off of DCM logs become disrupted.
If you are evaluating vendors to address this change, we recommend the following as requirements:
- Ability to source data from impression trackers rather than logs
- Visibility across all ad exchanges (several vendors are classified as DMPs by Google and thus blocked from tracking impressions on AdX)
- Can provide the following categories of metrics:
- Frequency by person and total ad exposure by person
- True reach and overlap of media placements and campaigns
- Attribution using any configurable attribution model, both position-based and algorithmic
- Media agnostic (be wary of solutions that grade their own homework)
- Independent of any arbitrage of audience data segments that are evaluated by their measurement product
In addition, some “nice to haves” include:
- Backed by a deterministic people-based graph
- Can provide reliable logs with interoperable customer ID to other identified vendors within the brand’s adtech stack if requested