Google to open source PAIR identity tool with IAB Tech Lab

Google plans to open source its PAIR identity tool to make it available to the industry through a new effort with the IAB Tech Lab.

Kristen O’Hara, VP of Agency, Platforms & Client Solutions at Google made the announcement on stage Monday during Google’s NewFronts presentation for media buyers.

PAIR, introduced in 2022, stands for Publisher Advertiser Identity Reconciliation. It pairs together respective first-party data from publishers and advertisers to reconcile in a privacy-centric way to power campaigns, where results enable advertisers to deliver personalized or targeted ads using Google’s Display & Video 360 demand-side ad platform (DSP) without the use of cookies or device IDs.

“We’re sharing the PAIR protocol with the IAB Tech Lab so other ad tech companies and our industry as a whole can adopt privacy-forward solutions that are going to benefit everyone,” O’Hara said. “This is a win for the industry."

PAIR is already live with NBCUniversal as one of the first publisher partners piloting, and the identity tool is soon coming to Disney through a direct integration with its DRAX (Disney Real-Time Ad Exchange). The integration will allow advertisers to activate and measure audience using PAIR directly with Disney’s audience graph as the first-party data source.

In terms of open sourcing PAIR to the industry, O’Hara placed strong emphasis on privacy tools built through partnerships.

“The decisions that we all make today are going to shape the future of our industry. Together we all have the opportunity to make privacy-forward solutions the new normal, even on connected TV,” she said. “The future of privacy will be built in partnership.”

On stage, Google VP of Consumer Goods, Government & Entertainment Adam Stewart provided an update on the protocol, which he said is meant to give advertisers the ability to show relevant ads to some of their highest-intent audiences.

“This helps increase advertising performance and hit marketing objectives, while truly respecting people’s privacy expectations.”

He described the example of an auto brand, where a group of people engaged with content on the brand’s website, signed up for a newsletter, and also shared their email address with a publisher for services they logged into.

“With PAIR you’ll be able to reach these people on that publisher’s website because they have an existing relationship with both you and the publisher,” Stewart told the audience.

He noted that each party involved maintains full data ownership and control of the data they share, with data pooling prohibited. This is part in response to privacy and regulatory concerns, as Stewart gave a stat that 76% of advertisers and agencies find the usage of IDs based on pooled data “concerning from a regulatory standpoint.”

PAIR is gaining some momentum with NBCU and Disney on board, as well as Albertsons Media Collective (the retail media network arm of food and drug retailer) and agency PMG Worldwide as some of the first test users.

“This partnership between Google, cleanrooms, premier publishers, is key to getting ready for the future of privacy-forward advertising,” Stewart said.

Progress on PAIR with NBCU

To help illustrate work with PAIR, NBCU Chief Data Officer of Advertising and Partnerships John Lee was on stage with Google where he said it “sounds like early returns are very very good” for partners, as the company expected.

In terms of the state of data, Lee described NBCU as moving from a data renter to a data owner, noting that when Peacock first launched it was fairly dependent on third-party sources for data attributes that advertisers wanted to target consumers by.  He cited a “significant transformation” in the last couple of years through investment in first-party data, where it’s now more future proofed and in a position to grow performance with more accuracy, scale and the ability to find the right viewers more often with first-party data, making NBCU inventory more valuable.

First-party data to NBCU, Lees said, means attributes about its consumers, with 90 million households in the NBCU ID graph that spans activities like what they watch, whether they’ve visited theme parks or bought movie tickets on NBCU-owned Fandago. And then more recently using generative AI to unlock deeper insights into the consumer and the connection between the person, the content they watch, “and how that interaction can help benefit the brands that advertise with us.”

What brought NBCU to the PAIR partnership in the first place, according to Lee, was a desire to figure out how to avail its first party data and ID scale and connect to advertisers first-party data with the least signal loss as possible. He also cited “as little filler in between” through the use of DV360.

So far there are a handful of advertisers on the platform with NBCU, including CitiGroup and Albertsons .

In terms of benefits for partners, Lee said, it’s early days for clients to see how they can utilize first party data and categorized PAIR as “an outlet” for “the innovators or early adopters to really dig in and learn.”

In general, with first party IDs in programmatic, he said they’ve learned actual audience reach is greater than what NBCU could’ve achieved before in terms of fill using third-party data and that performance is up, with all elements working “in concert.”

At a basic level, Lee said, the benefit of PAIR is that when advertisers and publishers each know exactly who their respective customer is and everyone agrees on it, with an AI-powered machine in the middle, “it’s going to work way better, right, than a convoluted ecosystem that’s got all these hops and all that trash in it.”  

Scale, consolidation, consistency

Kristi Argyilan SVP of retail media at Albertsons Media Collective was also on stage to discuss testing pair with NBCU, where she said a key driver was Google’s scale as well as interest in any efforts to bring consolidation and consistency to how its executing media programs based on first party data.

“We’re always looking for privacy preserving identity solutions, and to me that’s what PAIR provides. So we’re super excited to be doing the pilot with NBCU,” she said.

Where Google is providing fuel and scale, Argylian said, NBCU is bringing premium content and the ability to apply high-quality identity. And the pilot with NBCU is delivering the impression levels needed for Albertson to hit its goals, she noted.  

Argyilan also cited excitement from CPG brands that Albertsons works with about PAIR and its promise, with brands focused on the consolidation it offers amid a very fragmented ecosystem.

To have PAIR alongside DV360 and other Google offerings, the SVP cited “almost a little bit of a sigh of relief” noting “it takes a lot of humans to try to connect all the fragmentation we have in the space right now.”

And brands see the difference in first-party data-based audiences, which she said is much stronger and enables marketing to be more performant.

“They’re leaning way in, they’re just begging for the complexity to come out,” Argyilan said of brands.