Time To Get (Seriously) Serious About Universal Ad-ID Adoption

Do advertiser and agency creatives — and media buyers — need enhanced cross-platform tracking to inform decisions and enhance current and future campaign performance?

Does the industry need to deliver more relevant advertising experiences, while avoiding ad redundancy and clutter?

Yes, those are facetious questions. We all know that cross-platform marketing will only accelerate in the months and years ahead.

Yet, one of the most important — if not terribly sexy — tools available for tackling the growing challenges of media fragmentation and streamlining cross-platform functions for all parties concerned, including media owners, has yet to be universally adopted.

I’m referring to Ad-ID, the unified standard for advertising metadata that was started (and is jointly owned) by the ANA and the 4As back in 2003.

There’s every argument for — and really no sensible argument against — universal adoption of this system for identifying creative advertising assets across all media platforms, digital and linear. Supporting it amounts to (or should amount to) preaching to the choir.



And yes, there has been considerable progress over the past 16 years.

In 2012, a year-long pilot test by the JPC pilot test confirmed that commercial identifiers are not used consistently. Among other fundamental problems, this results in the need to estimate a significant percentage of the use fees calculated — introducing human error and inaccuracy into that process.

Also in 2012, the 4A’s and the ANA boards both unanimously endorsed Ad-ID as the industry standard for commercial ad coding and implementing file-based workflows across the entire marketing supply chain.

Since 2013, an agreement between SAG-AFTRA and the ANA/4As Joint Policy Committee has mandated that all commercials produced for television, radio and digital platforms featuring SAG-AFTRA union members use Ad-ID as the sole standard commercial identifier.

Today, Ad-Id is the preferred advertising identification of the major TV networks. More than 3,000 brands are currently registered to use it, and more than 900 agencies and nearly 400 nonprofits are using it.

All that said, the standard still isn’t being universally used. In fact, a custom survey for the Ad-ID organization, conducted just this September with Ad Perceptions, found just 16% of agencies and marketers saying that they are consistently using a universal ad ID.

Reasons? The ones cited most by some 250 marketers and agencies were: One, an ID isn’t being asked for, or provided by the agency or client; and two, inconsistent standard adoption by both the marketer/agency and vendor sides.

While marketers may not be up on the technical needs or requirements behind use of the IDs, the reasons cited above sound like circular explanations for excusing legacy stasis. What it apparently comes down to is that organizations and individuals within them aren’t taking responsibility for taking the additional time and effort to ensure that the IDs are used in each asset created and deployed across media.

So now — just yesterday, in fact — we have a renewed call for industrywide adoption of a universal ad ID from the FreeWheel Council for Premium Video (FWC), an educational, resource and advocacy organization for premium video.

In addition to Comcast, the 45 premium video providers in this group (26 in the U.S.) include A+E Networks, Discovery Communications, Fox, NBC Universal, Turner Broadcasting and Univision. As its name implies, it’s led by Comcast’s video advertising platform, FreeWheel. 

FWC’s outreach efforts this time include a guide summarizing the actions that companies can take, as well as the benefits. 

The actions recommended include adopting and advocating for VAST 4.x, the latest iteration of the Video Ad Serving Template for structuring ad tags that serve ads to video players (although solutions are also being developed for accommodating Ad-ID on earlier VAST versions). 

The group is also urging companies and agencies to use mezzanine and ready-to-serve files (rather than low-quality files). “Essential for long-form TV experiences, high-quality files also remove workflow friction,” they note. 

And finally, they ask marketers/agencies to recommend that partners adopt Ad-ID. 

The benefits include workflow efficiencies (reducing the need to re-identify the asset across channels and vendors); reducing demand- and supply-side duplication and storage of assets; enhancing ad quality and avoiding running the same ads back-to-back; enhancing accurate ad delivery (right audience, frequency) through a more efficient ad inventory; and improved post-delivery reporting. 

On the last score, FWC points out that “Knowing exactly where an ad ran and when is key to post-campaign reporting. More detailed information on the performance of creative assets brings improved analysis and planning for subsequent campaigns.” 

“Ad-ID is important to both the linear television and the digital ecosystem, and its adoption is a decisive step in the right direction,” Peter Olsen, EVP ad sales for A&E Networks, stressed in the FWC’s call-to-action release. “Including Ad-ID in digital creative will improve our viewers’ experience and create greater transparency for our clients and agencies, ensuring that their ads will be presented in a clutter-free, brand safe environment. It’s a win-win for all – marketers, buyers, sellers and, most importantly, the consumer – delivering a better advertising user experience across hundreds of ad delivery end points.”

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