Using Pixels and Tags in the Wake of DoubleClick Cookie Limits

May 4, 2018 Ginna Hall

Google made news when, on April 27, it announced significant changes to the way it will handle DoubleClick data as part of its GDPR compliance efforts. Google’s DoubleClick Campaign Manager (DCM) -- the ad management and serving solution -- helps agencies and advertisers at companies all over the world manage their digital advertising programs.

Any changes to DCM ripple widely, as Google represents more than a third of the world’s $223.7 billion in digital ad revenue. Its parent company, Alphabet, earns more from digital ads than any other company in the world. Net digital sales were expected to reach $73.8 billion (after subtracting for traffic acquisition costs) in 2017. 

By some estimates, DoubleClick’s Ad Server is used by up to 80 percent of advertisers globally. It has been broadly adopted in part because it allows advertisers to measure and optimize across channels and platforms such as display, video, mobile, native, social and search.

This enables advertisers to get visibility into the customer journey online. If a customer engages with a brand’s Spotify ad, sees a display ad, searches on Google, and then makes a purchase, DoubleClick knows the order and frequency of the ads shown and that they were shown to the same customer.  

What are the changes?

Beginning May 25, the same day the EU’s GDPR goes into effect, DoubleClick Cookie IDs (User ID and Partner ID fields) for EU users will no longer be populated in data transfer files in DoubleClick Campaign Manager and DoubleClick Bid Manager. These IDs will not be populated for YouTube inventory globally on May 25.

The data transfer service allows marketers to pull data out of DoubleClick Campaign Manager for cross-platform reporting and measurement. Removing the DoubleClick ID prevents advertisers from seeing user activity across the DoubleClick ecosystem and limits their ability to measure the reach and frequency of Google campaigns against other platforms,

Who is effected? When?

These changes take effect in European countries on May 25, and non-European countries later this year. Non-EU companies can continue to use DCM as their primary measurement mechanism until a change is communicated. YouTube is impacted globally starting May 25, and as previously announced, Google has also restricted third party measurement via tags on YouTube as well.

What is the DoubleClick Cookie ID?

Cookies are a simple technology that has been around since the early days of the web. They are pieces of code that web servers use to put information on a user’s browser, and then retrieve that information at a later time for various uses.

For example, YouTube sets a cookie on your browser to remember your username and volume settings so you don’t have to input those every time. Cookies are privacy conscious by design, so that only the server domain that sets a cookie is able to retrieve it.​

​Ad servers (such as DoubleClick) use cookies to set unique identifiers (IDs) so they can identify the same individual across multiple touchpoints. When an ad server receives an ad display request from a user who does not have an existing cookie, the ad server assigns a new unique ID (a random alphanumeric string such as 118D132F9423).

On each subsequent request the cookie returns the same unique ID, thus allowing the ad server to know that it is the same user. Because all requests are recorded by the ad server, reports can be created that provide a record of all the touchpoints for each individual user.

What is the impact of the DCM change?

This change requires all of the thousands of adtech vendors that leverage Google’s DCM Ad Server Data Transfer Files, including Nielsen, to transition impacted clients to alternative measurement methods.

Is there an alternative to cookies?

There are two alternatives to cookies: pixels and site tags. Companies currently relying on Google’s Data Transfer Files should consider proactively moving to using their solution provider’s pixel or tag to reduce attribution disruption.

Pixel Tags

Pixel tags (also known as pixels, 1x1 pixels, image tags or web bugs) are typically single pixel, transparent GIF images that are added to a web page. Even though the pixel tag is virtually invisible, it is still served just like any other image you may see online.

An important difference is that the web page is served from the website’s domain while the image is served from the ad server’s domain. This allows the ad server to read and record the user’s unique ID.

Site Tags

Site tags (also known as container tags) hold JavaScript code which contains one or more pixel tags. These site tags can control the information being passed into pixels, and can decide whether or not to “fire” or show the pixel tag, which would trigger the ad server to record an impression with the unique ID.

A common use for site tags is to track users that arrive at a website from earned and owned marketing channels such as organic search visits and direct traffic. The multi-touch attribution process often uses JavaScript to record the referring URL or other information needed to identify and record otherwise untracked touchpoints in the consumer journey.

Why should I transition to pixels or tags?

Transitioning to pixels and/or tags proactively will allow you to continue to measure performance data despite the ID restrictions in DoubleClick. The Envoy pixel and tag offer several unique benefits when compared to a cookie ad server approach.

Pixels and tags allow:

  • Increased access to data sources such as cross-device and audience segment information
  • Higher match rates between core measurement data and partner infrastructure (i.e., cross-device identification)
  • Identical taxonomy rules and cost sources

How can I learn more?

Nielsen is dedicated to helping marketers leverage all of the technologies used to discover consumer journeys across channels and devices so that you can drive desired business outcomes.

To learn more about how you can be a better marketer in the digital era, download our ebook: Crossing the New Digital Divide: Your Guide to Marketing Effectiveness

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