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Not too long ago I wrote a post One buyer, many cookies, now what?. In that post I promised that I would write about how buyers can best operate in the coming market with multiple platforms — and hence multiple cookies & adservers.

A quick refresher

In prior posts I have stressed the following:

  1. An exchange or ad platform, fundamentally an adserver
  2. Adserving is still tied to one cookie.
  3. Behavioral targeting is tied to knowledge about a user
  4. Knowledge about a user is stored in the cookie (whether as a unique user id or the actual data)

If that didn’t make sense — go read some of my older posts first.

Behavior is the future!

A single exchange with a single cookie space would have enabled true global internet wide behavioral targeting. Lets imagine I wanted to remarket to users. All I would have had to do in a single platform market is add my visitors to one behavioral segment on one exchange and then place buys on that segment. Sadly this is not likely to happen since the three major internet giants swooped in and acquired practically every adserving/exchange/marketplace up for grabs. So what would I do in a world with three platforms? Lets talk about some options.

Option #1: A global user-id

Imagine this — an independent entity that offers a global user-id database. Every marketplace, ad-network or exchange subscribes to this UID service and syncs their user-ids with the global user-id. So even though Google might think that you are user #12345 and Yahoo might think you are user 54321, I can use global UID database to map your mikeonads UserID of #164 to Yahoo’s 54321 and Google’s 12345. I then simply signal to Yahoo that user 54321 is a user and similarly to Google. Now each exchange knows who my users are and theoretically I can then target campaigns to my users.

Chances of this happening? Pretty close to nill. First off you’d need an independent company to provide the global UID space because none of the giants would want to give up control to another on this front. Then this conglomerate would have to get past scrutiny from the FTC, FCC, FBI, CIA and who knows who else before being able to launch, and then finally somehow convince end users, who would have probably gotten wind of this from all the press coverage, that this wouldn’t be an invasion of privacy.

Option #2: Massive user-segment mapping

In theory this solution isn’t too different from the above except that it requires browser-side communication of segments. Instead of having a global user database which allows companies to merge and map their data you simply signal each individual piece of information to each platform. If I were Revenue Science, Exelate or Tacoda I could sign up with Google, Yahoo & any other source of supply and set up my user category mapping in each system. Then, when I decide whether to add a user to a segment I fire off pixels (or whatever method to add a user to a segment) for each system.

Lets go back to remarketing to users. Some people might find this a little confusing, so I made a little diagram:


Lets walk through the steps (btw, this is hypothetical, I’m not actually tracking you like this!)

  1. You come to
  2. The html for the site contains three img tags that point to various platforms
  3. Your browser loads the Google pixel
  4. Google updates it’s user database and adds info to your cookie
  5. Your browser loads the Yahoo pixel
  6. Yahoo updates it’s user database and adds info to your cookie
  7. etc.

Why does this have to work this way? Cookies! Each company has a different UID and each UID is stored in a cookie. For Yahoo or Google to store data on this user they must know who the user is, for which they need access to the cookie, which means the user’s browser has to request content from their servers.

The above is actually a perfectly feasible model and practiced a fair amount today. The problem is that it’s difficult to scale — sure if all I want to do is tell each platform that you visit my site it’s pretty easy. But what if I have thousands of different user segments and then have weights and scores on each?

Option #3:Tagging users based on value

Instead of building a mapping of a thousand different categories across five different platforms there is another solution — flagging users based on value. Lets say I rank my behavioral segments into ten different buckets, from very low to very high value — for example, users interested in credit-cards are far more valuable than users interested in harry potter. After having assigned a value priority I can then create ten different segments in each supply platform that I want to work with. Each time I have access to a user’s browser I fire off one of the ten segments to each of the supply platforms to signal the value I place on this user, much like option #2 above. Note that I still place the exact category in my own user database.

Once I have flagged users based on value I can then place a media-buy with each platform at different price points based on the ten user segments. For example, I can have one $5.00 CPM campaign for all the high value users, credit-card and auto buyers, and a $0.50 campaign for the less interesting behaviors — low-income family, under 18, etc.. Each time I win a campaign I have the platform redirect the user to my adserver where I pick my own ad to serve based on the exact categories that the user in. The major draw-back of this approach is that it forces third party adservers. To some extent this is inevitable but this is non-ideal from a creative review, discrepancy and user experience perspectives.

Final Thoughts

Even though the industry won’t be standardizing behind one platform there are several methods of enabling cross-marketplace behaviors. Obviously there are some privacy concerns that will have to be ironed out, but those are independent of the platform being used. Also, if you own a site and are interested in remarketing to your users in ways I describe above you should check out’s LeadBack service which allows you to do just that!