Cross-Device Isn’t As Adopted As You Think

The following is a guest contributed post by Keith Petri, Chief Strategy Officer, US, at Screen6

Ad tech is struggling to transition to a state of full maturity, and that’s largely due to the continued acceptance of half-truths and inadequate technological shortcuts. As an industry, we need to demand better, and we need to hold vendors accountable to the claims they make. “Cross-device” is not a term that was made up for marketing materials. It’s a legitimate need among marketers today, and the entire supply chain needs to begin treating it as such.

The truth is that cross-device is being inadequately addressed by many players within the marketing industry, and the vast majority of companies that say they’re enabling cross-device are either openly lying or seriously bending the truth. Why are industry players obscuring the truth about cross-device? Quite simply, because they can.

A Culture of Box-Checking

DSPs and SSPs know they need to be able to list “cross-device” among their capabilities. Unfortunately, most platforms right now are only doing the bare minimum to be able to check this box for their clients.

When marketers say “cross-device,” they mean they want to be able to identify an individual across their various devices and tailor their ad experiences based on knowledge of this individual. But this isn’t the idealistic definition that’s being applied to their campaigns.

Most platforms are currently hacking the concept of cross-device. Some of them do this through simple IP matching, where they tie multiple devices to a single profile based on their use of the same IP address. But IP addresses are not identifiers for individuals. Not even close. These addresses can, but rarely, represent a single device, a router or even a cell tower communication channel. Many people and devices—computers, cell phones, streaming video players, etc.—can communicate over a single IP address, even simultaneously. These addresses can’t be used to identify an individual. They can’t even reliably be used to identify a household.

Many platforms also mislead marketers when they claim to have access to certain cross-device audiences. Let’s say a platform claims to have an auto intenders segment across mobile and desktop. That’s cross-device, right? Not necessarily. It’s more likely that this given audience segment includes auto intenders on mobile and auto intenders on desktop—but they’re not the same people. The mobile audience members are entirely distinct from the individuals who are using their desktops.

DSPs and SSPs today don’t have an interest in building out true cross-device capabilities because they’re not being incentivized to do so, nor are they being penalized for not doing so. This brings us to another deficiency in the marketplace: attribution and verification providers that aren’t accurately measuring cross-device activity.

The Attribution Deficiency

Marketers are partnering with any number of attribution and verification providers today in order to understand the effect of their media spends and ensure all of their supply-chain partners are delivering what they say they’re doing. Such third-party monitoring is designed to keep DSPs and SSPs on the straight and narrow, but that’s not happening in the realm of cross-device. That’s because most verification vendors aren’t handling cross-device attribution appropriately – if at all.

Attribution and verification vendors understand that marketers today are looking for multi-touch attribution solutions that account for cross-device activity. But, like the platforms, they’re only taking bare-bones steps to check the right boxes. Most of them do, in fact, measure activity across channels, but they’re not connecting the activity on different channels and devices to an individual. They’re measuring IDs, not people. Unfortunately, every ID represents only a fraction of a given person.

The marketing industry has been talking about the need and the promise of cross-device for a long time, and rightfully so. I think we can all agree that the need to create seamless experiences for customers and prospects across their ever-multiplying devices is a topic worthy of discussion.

But here’s the problem: thanks to the amount of time we’ve spent heralding the importance of cross-device over the past five years, most advertisers have come to believe that we’ve solved for it. And we haven’t. Not by a long shot.