For brands and DoubleClick ID, the writing’s on the walled garden



This week Google retired the DoubleClick brand.

illuma MD Duncan Arthur looks into recent changes to the tech giant's ad stack, and wonders if there's more going on than meets the eye.


For some, it was like a thunderbolt from on high. For others, the writing was already on the walled garden.

It all began in late April, with Google announcing it would block the use of the DoubleClick user ID outside of its own platform. Just as it also restricted third party pixels and ad serving on YouTube - both under the pretext of GDPR.

The implications of the DoubleClick ID blocking may be lost on some. But a little more context on Mountain View’s grip of programmatic ads, and its activities around GDPR in particular put them into stark relief.


"I think it has also been a wakeup call about the pitfalls of a highly reliant approach dependent on walled gardens, which have attempted to use GDPR and related trends as an opportunity for further isolation."

Oli Whitten, COO, Adform, quoted in ExchangeWire



The first thing to note, for better or worse, is the way advertising technology is wired. As you’re probably well aware, there’s a tangled web of providers and relationships out there – with Google making up far and away the biggest part of that. In the simplest terms, before this change, your Google box could be hooked to anything else. Now you find it doesn’t plug into any other device – while the manufacturer encourages you to buy all types of its own add-ons.

As AdExchanger explained in some depth, the move has been interpreted as deliberately increasing clients’ dependence on Google services. Especially when it comes to measurement and conversion tracking. As well as growing demand for newer products in the process, as it pointed customers to its little known Ads Data Hub product.

By taking out of circulation what had become, for better or worse, a standard currency, it is once again a reminder of the perils of over-reliance by brands on big tech. Just like what Google attempted with its GDPR consent platform on the publisher end - initially restricting which other third parties media companies could work with. For other examples of big tech withdrawal, let’s also not forget Facebook’s rejigging of its news feed algorithm, which sent some publishers out of business.

In fact, when you look, the past is littered with warnings against such over-dependence. But convenience is a sure route to memory loss – or so all the evidence seems to suggest. As a New York Times representative recently stated, in the starkest terms:



“A lot more of our ad ecosystem is tied up with Google than it used to be, as it’s easier for us to do it that way.”

Meredith Kopit Levien, COO of New York Times, quoted in Digiday



For the more switched on advertisers - increasingly aware of the importance of owning and controlling their own data – could this be a point of divergence? And doesn’t this all make a stronger case than ever to embrace alternative systems – such as the Ad ID Consortium, now working alongside the IAB-owned Digitrust?

Because as commentary in Martech Today points out, there are question marks around allowing a single provider to ‘mark its own homework.’ Add to this the fact that preventing ‘cross-platform comparison’ is another by-product of the change. And that can only play into the hands of the provider building up those walls. Others go even further, claiming this is a clear case of antitrust, especially where Google is allowing any type of data in, but not the other way.


“95% of the vendors built aggressive business plans based on aggregating significant amounts of data from publisher or advertiser content, cross referencing this data with third-party data sources, and building proprietary models to attract advertiser spend. Nobody talks about it.”

Romain Job, CPO, Smart, quoted in ExchangeWire



Previous attempts by Google to raise its garden walls arguably led to the whole header bidding phenomenon. And the longer-term effects of its ID blocking are still unclear.

But it’s interesting to see alongside Google’s latest major update, retiring the DoubleClick brand name completely and renaming its product suite. The rebrand even came packaged with the following quotation:



“The interoperability, whether it’s with other exchanges or other measurement providers, that will not change…You can take what you want.”

Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP of Ads, Google, quoted in AdExchanger



Remember, this comes just two months after the blocking of the-platform-formerly-known-as-DoubleClick IDs. In that context, it’s a pretty astonishing statement.

But given the industry’s propensity for memory loss, no doubt few will notice.

And the shock will be the same the next time those walls grow higher.

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