The Ultimate Ad Organizer: Media Supplier of the Year - Ad-ID

It may not be a glamorous job, but somebody had to figure out a way to keep track of the world’s billions of bits of advertising. Here’s to the 4A's and the ANA for finally helping Adland sort itself out.

To understand why the world needs Ad-ID, consider the legend of Donut_15. (All names are withheld to protect the embarrassed.) In 2010, a major broadcast network received an e-mail from a media agency containing a commercial labeled Donut_15 that was supposed to run on the network’s digital platforms. It was a new version of an ad that had already run on the TV network itself. 

Unfortunately, the digital version was no good, so the network went in search of a better copy. But they couldn’t find any Donut_15 in their library, and the digital agency connected to the account had never heard of it, either. Going by the name, the network started searching and asking for any 15-second spots about donuts (Dunkin Donuts? Entenmanns?), but to no avail. 

After thirty minutes of confused phone calls and head scratching, the network discovered the problem: Donut_15 was not a 15-second spot about donuts. It was a 30-second car commercial in which an office worker on his way to a meeting takes an action-filled detour to pick up — wait for it — donuts. The “15” indicated that it was the 15th take of the shoot. The network had a high-quality copy of the ad in its library all along, but because it was labeled differently, nobody could find it. 

It’s mishaps like these — to say nothing of networks airing the wrong commercial, or vendors waiting on payments for ads that seem to disappear — that spurred the development of Ad-ID, a digital identification system that provides a unique code for every piece of advertising. Like the UPC system for retail products, Ad-ID lets agencies, media companies, distributors and vendors tag every advertising asset so it can be tracked seamlessly through the supply chain. 

“It provides every ad that’s created with a unique code that carries through from time of inception to whatever media it crosses into,” says Duke Fanelli, SVP of marketing and communications for the Association of National Advertisers, which collaborated with the American Association of Advertising Agencies to create Ad-ID. “An advertiser, agency or media company can track where that ad is at any given time, and nobody’s renaming it. It’s a unique code that only one ad will ever have.”

Though it was introduced in 2003, it was in 2012 that the boards of directors of both the 4As and the ANA voted to make Ad-ID the industry standard for all advertising asset coding, effective January 2014. That’s one reason that MediaPost has named Ad-ID — the company jointly created by the ANA and 4As to provide and promote the system of the same name — as Supplier of the Year.

Of course, ad identification is not a new problem. But in an era of proliferating platforms and splintered media, it is an increasingly complex and expensive one. 

The previous ID system, ISCI (Industry Standard Coding Identification), is a relic of a time when there were three television networks and no such thing as advertising on a phone, much less on a tablet or in an elevator. Today, an ID system has to track an ad through multiple formats and endless subcontractors, making it possible for advertisers not only to keep tabs on their assets but measure their performance once those assets are in the marketplace. 


Selling agencies on Ad-ID’s efficiencies

“This isn’t just about the wrong ad running,” says Harold S. Geller, chief growth officer at Ad-ID (and source of the Donut_15 story). “I look at operations, administration, measurement and residual management — these are all areas that are becoming more complex.” Indeed, supply chain inefficiencies like poor identification cost the ad industry somewhere between $1 billion and $3 billion a year, according to the ANA.

As they grow tired of those costs, more and more advertisers are getting on board with Ad-ID — more than 800 agencies and brands now use the system. But adoption is still relatively low. Only 41 percent of television commercials, 12 percent of radio ads and a negligible number of digital ads are currently affixed with Ad-ID codes. 

What’s stopping the rest of the industryfrom adopting the system? “The resistance is about change,” says Geller. “People look at what they do in a silo, and there’s a resistance to doing things that may be a benefit to others when you think that what’s going on in your own silo is just fine.” Many shops use their own systems for identifying ads and never see the problems those systems cause once the ads go out the door.

But Brad Epperson, VP of commercial operations at NBCUniversal, says that advertisers and agencies are ultimately costing themselves more money by refusing to switch. There’s a lot of non-value-added work in trying to suss through duplicates,” he says. But as long as companies further up the supply chain continue to use their own labeling conventions, media companies like his must continue to spend time and money to prevent different assets from being confused. 

“We do a lot of work on our end to attempt not to have that happen,” he says, “but if there were a clear identifier like a unique Ad-ID from the get-go, we would not have to do so much diligence to verify the integrity of our commercial content.” Advertisers who do business with NBCU will soon find links to the Ad-ID site on its guidelines page, part of the network’s efforts to encourage advertisers to adopt it.

Of course, unlike in-house coding systems (most of which rely on some combination of old habits and improvisation), Ad-ID costs agencies money. The one-time start-up fee is $500. From there, there is a sliding scale of per-code fees that begin at $40 and progressively reduce to $5 per code. After an advertiser spends $15,000 on codes in a single year, all subsequent codes for that year are free.

There is also the headache of learning something new. 

“Like all things new, the transition was bumpy at first,” says Ginny Sharp, director of broadcast operations at WMRKmedia, a broadcast trafficking agency based in New York. “Agencies were apprehensive about asking clients for fees on something that had never been billed before. But eventually, as everyone was educated on how the system would provide more than ISCI code assignments, the transition became much smoother.” Now, she says she couldn’t envision doing business without it. 

With a little luck and persuasion, it is the ANA’s hope that the rest of the industry will soon feel the same. “Obviously we can’t legislate” the adoption of Ad-ID, says Fanelli. “But some of the largest advertisers and agencies in the country are now realizing this is where we need the industry to move.” 


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