Adopting the Cascade Model in Ad Auctions: Efficiency Bounds and Truthful Algorithmic Mechanisms

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Gabriele Farina
Nicola Gatti


Sponsored Search Auctions (SSAs) are one of the most successful applications of microeconomic mechanisms, with a revenue of about $72 billion in the US alone in 2016. However, the problem of designing the best economic mechanism for sponsored search auctions is far from being solved, and, given the amount at stake, it is no surprise that it has received growing attention over the past few years. The most common auction mechanism for SSAs is the Generalized Second Price (GSP). However, the GSP is known not to be truthful: the agents participating in the auction might have an incentive to report false values, generating economic inefficiency and suboptimal revenues in turn. Superior, efficient truthful mechanisms, such as the Vickrey-Clarke-Groves (VCG) auction, are well known in the literature. However, while the VCG auction is currently adopted for the strictly related scenario of contextual advertising, e.g., by Google and Facebook, companies are reluctant to extend it to SSAs, fearing prohibitive switching costs. Other than truthfulness, two issues are of paramount importance in designing effective SSAs. First, the choice of the user model; not only does an accurate user model better target ads to users, it also is a critical factor in reducing the inefficiency of the mechanism. Often an antagonist to this, the second issue is the running time of the mechanism, given the performance pressure these mechanisms undertake in real-world applications. In our work, we argue in favor of adopting the VCG mechanism based on the cascade model with ad/position externalities (APDC-VCG). Our study includes both the derivation of inefficiency bounds and the design and the experimental evaluation of exact and approximate algorithms.

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