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Groups push ad-tracking standard

A new standard for targeting and tracking digital ads is gaining support but still has a way to go before it gets the nod from ad agencies, digital publishers, broadcasters and others.

A new standard for targeting and tracking digital ads is gaining industry support, but it still has a long way to go before it gets a collective nod from ad agencies, digital publishers, broadcasters and device makers.

The standard, called the Ad-ID platform, is a Web-based method for coding any type of ad linked to a digital delivery system, such as interactive TV or on-demand cable. Under Ad-ID, all advertisements get a 12-digit unique identifier that's used to track them from creation to distribution. The identifier lets an ad agency and a distributor share data and lets ads be linked to analysis such as demographic data on people to whom the ads have been delivered.

By examining descriptive information linked to the ad's code, a cable company, for example, could ship a tailor-made ad to a household. The information might include the ad's target audience, any restrictions to use of the ad, clearance status, start date and end date.

The Ad-ID schema could go a long way to unifying disparate digital delivery systems for ads and usher in the electronic age for advertisers by making the process simpler and more valuable, executives backing the system say.

"Ad-id is essentially a UPC code for advertising--bar codes helped the checkout process and revolutionized the grocery industry. This is the same concept for facilitating digital convergence," said John Kaiser, sales and marketing director for the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA). The AAAA developed the platform in partnership with the Association of National Advertisers.

"This brings some consistency and standard to the identification of ads and their delivery on multiple platforms, environments and applications," Kaiser said.

Advertisers and agencies are promoting the standard at a meeting in New York on Thursday. And last week, the Interactive Television Alliance announced support for the Ad-ID platform as part of a project to set new interactive advertising guidelines. The trade group, founded in early 2002, represents nearly 100 companies in the interactive TV industry, including Microsoft, Walt Disney, Intel and Procter & Gamble. Members of the ANA and AAAA are also participating in the meeting to advance the standard.

Still, many corners of the industry, as well as the global community, have yet to adopt it. The program and Web site launched in March, and about 60 companies are using Ad-ID, including major advertisers such as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Ernst & Young. But that's only a fraction of the global ad industry that the AAAA hopes to capture. The group holds meetings daily to promote use of the standard, but it lacks a large marketing budget to urge adoption, Kaiser said.

"We have a long way to go. It's an outreach process to ensure that (advertisers and programmers) are aware and comfortable with it," Kaiser said.

Ad-ID is designed to replace Industry Standard Coding Identification (ISCI)--a decades-old coding standard (with eight digits) for broadcast advertising--and numerous other coding systems, such as those for billboard or print ads. The Ad-ID code provides a permanent identifier that lets advertisers find unlimited data about the ad, made possible by the inherent tracking abilities of digital delivery systems. The platform also provides an online hub for advertisers, agencies and programmers to tap this data, letting them securely share information.

Ben Mendelson, president of the Interactive Television Alliance, said the platform is key to advancing advertising on interactive TV, where formats vary widely. The ITV industry comprises enhanced set-top boxes such as Wink and OpenTV, video-on-demand through satellite or cable, and personal video recording devices like TiVo. Mendelson said that to ensure that the industry takes flight, it needs a unified coding system for different platforms, distributions systems and devices.

"Right now there's a lot of data available; advertisers need to be able to put it in a form that is of value to them and easily accessible to them," Mendelson said.

Supporters of the system say that consumer privacy is a hurdle to adoption, so the emphasis is on use of anonymous consumer information that people have consented to. Ultimately, such detailed data lets advertisers target ads better and account for the money they've spent.

"The holy grail of all this is to be able to collect anonymous information--the kind of information such as this kind of person, coming from this demographic, has seen these shows, viewed this ad," Mendelson said. "The kind of data TiVo has, in opt-in fashion.

"The advertisers spend a lot of money on research to be able to target their product and not waste it on people who don't want it," Mendelson said. "At the end of the day, that's the future of broadcast advertising, to create consumer relationships and for the advertiser to be able to account for the dollars they're spending."

Advertisers incur some cost in adopting the platform, which is backward compatible with ISCI. For 10 codes the cost ranges from $250; or advertisers can buy into an annual contract for a maximum of $10,000 a year.