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Your Replacement for UDID’s Sucks

(This is a personal opinion, not the opinion of Verve and not necessarily reflecting any particular strategy that Verve may or may not utilize. Verve’s official opinion is here:

New technology requires new approaches to take advantage of that technology. The creation of the cookie, a tool originally designed for maintaining state primarily for e-commerce platforms, allowed advertisers for the first time to control frequency exposure to consumers.

(Sidenote: My first company, Group Cortex, created SiteTrack, the first NSAPI plug-in for maintaining state in web servers – it did crazy URL modifications to maintain state pre-cookie and it was painful. I attended the first W3C meeting talking about the introduction of cookies. My obsession at the time (and an on-going “thing” of mine): A special referrer should be set when someone uses a bookmark to get to the site. Today it is set improperly to the site you were on when you selected the bookmark. Tracking bookmarks was the 1995 version of “LIKES”. I should have been a billionaire.)

Anyway, Television does not offer frequency management. Radio and print do not offer frequency management. These tools simply never existed before. And yet when we enter a mobile advertising world, the thought that we cannot track frequency of ad exposures is considered preposterous.

iPhone’s are the most common target for mobile advertising today. They are widespread and the people that use iPhones consumer significant amounts of content. Today, the state of iPhone user-targeting is this:

  • Apps are able to access the UDID of the user – a unique ID assigned by Apple – and set cookies
  • The safari web browser, by default, is able to set first party cookies but not third party cookies. It cannot access UDIDs.

While it is possible, with a bunch of work that is very unfriendly to the consumer, to tie UDID to mobile web cookies, we have already take a giant step backwards: In most situations, when frequency capping a mobile campaign, a mobile web user and an application user cannot be separated.

Apple recently deprecated the UDID, meaning that soon, access to that function may go away. This means that between applications, it will soon become impossible to tell one user from another. Advertising networks are scrambling to replace this technology with a variety of solutions, but two seem to dominate the conversation:

1) MAC Addresses: This is a hardware identifier burned into the system. It works essentially exactly like UDIDs which is why it is such a focus of interest. Unfortunately, for exactly these reasons, I suspect that anyone that uses it will find that it is deprecated simultaneously with UDID. It is harder to deprecate because some applications maybe designed to interact with the network protocol layer and hence need the MAC address for functionality, but Apple can probably figure this stuff out.

2) Pastebin Solutions: This uses the Pastebin (the copy/paste buffer of the OS) to hide an identifier for the user. This holds the promise of creating a potentially cross-platform solution, but it seems the most frought with compromise of user-data. A lot could be hidden in the copy/paste buffer and I would expect to see Apple act to prevent such inappropriate use of system resources.

So it turns out that today there is no suitable replacement. Many Advertisers seem to hope that Apple will address this. I am not optimistic. I have not seen Apple express any knowledge or interest in improving the life of Advertisers.

We may be living in a world where mobile advertising is simply less measurable in this way than Display. That is not the end of the world, but as mobile becomes the domain of digital media planners, we are told that this is some kind of horrible show-stopping turn of events. What it really means is that media planning around this becomes more important – it cannot be simply taken for granted.

Frequency cappings most powerful effect is on performance – the proof of whether a publisher is achieving reach or ever increasing frequency will be in the performance of the campaign. It is easy to imagine living in a world without frequency control if the performance of campaigns is strong and sustained. This will require work on the part of advertisers and publishers, but it is achieveable.

How off-base am I?

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