Ad Tech & Programmatic

How Google is trying to help advertisers and publishers link their data

PAIR is just one way it’s working to replace the third-party cookie.
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Hannah Minn

· 3 min read

Like a parent vying for grandchildren, Google is trying to play matchmaker.

In October, the company debuted a tool it says can help advertisers and publishers reach their overlapping audiences using first-party data.

Called Google PAIR—or, the Publisher Advertiser Identity Reconciliation (😬)—it’s a “new solution” that can help advertisers target and monetize audiences that are spit out of a clean room, a buzzword that can mean several things but is generally understood to be a privacy-focused way in which two entities can combine data and find similarities.

Who cares? PAIR is just one solution among many that Google is pitching to advertisers and publishers as it tries to *checks notes* rewrite the telemetry of the internet and the infrastructure behind digital advertising. No big deal, right? More seriously, if Topics is a solution to mine and find new customers and lookalike audiences, PAIR is more about reaching and retargeting known customers, explained Dan Taylor, Google’s VP of ads. (Earlier this year, some publishers told us they weren’t exactly in love with Topics, with some saying that it did little more than tell them what they already knew about their audiences.)

Here’s how it’ll work: A fictional tennis-shoe company with 5,000 customers who’ve opted into receiving emails can work with a publisher who also has an email list (either from paying subscribers or readers of a publisher’s newsletter, for example), throw those lists into a clean room, then target a common audience using Google’s Display and Video 360.

Google said that all data is encrypted and that it doesn’t have access to any that’s shared. There isn’t a minimum spend requirement, but Taylor said advertisers will need at least thousands of emails to avoid identifying an individual.

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PAIR likely won’t be broadly available until at least the second quarter of 2023, Taylor said, but it’s something publishers and advertisers were asking the platform for. “I think we’re trying to answer a market need of advertisers and publishers that say there’s more digitized data than ever before…and there aren’t that many ways to activate that in the programmatic ecosystem.”

So far, PAIR has partnered with clean-room providers Habu, InfoSum, and LiveRamp, and plans to integrate Google’s own clean room, the Ads Data Hub, later. (Google recently split Ads Data Hub, dividing measurement and targeting.)

Like many post-cookie solutions, including clean rooms, buyers told us that PAIR may have a scale problem.

“It’s super privacy-safe. I think the big question in our minds is just, like, how scalable will this solution be?” wondered Mary O’Brien, programmatic media director at digital agency PMG. “When you have a big brand, the scale could be there. I think that’s what we have yet to prove.”

In some ways, it’s similar to other identity solutions offered by The Trade Desk and LiveRamp, which also rely on encrypted email addresses. The difference, though, is that those solutions can aggregate audiences across multiple publishers, O’Brien said.

“If you don’t have robust first-party assets on the buy side or the sell side, this isn’t a great solution for you,” Taylor explained. “We’re not entertaining new solutions that will track people across the web.”

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