How Do Digital Advertising Auctions Impact Product Prices?
We ask how the advertising mechanisms of digital platforms impact product prices. We present a model that integrates three fundamental features of digital advertising markets: (i) advertisers can reach customers on and off-platform, (ii) additional data enhances the value of matching advertisers and consumers, and (iii) bidding follows auction-like mechanisms. We compare data-augmented auctions, which leverage the platform’s data advantage to improve match quality, with managed campaign mechanisms, where advertisers’ budgets are transformed into personalized matches and prices through auto-bidding algorithms. In data-augmented second-price auctions, advertisers increase off-platform product prices to boost their competitiveness on-platform. This leads to socially efficient allocations on-platform, but inefficient allocations off-platform due to high product prices. The platform-optimal mechanism is a sophisticated managed campaign that conditions on-platform prices for sponsored products on off-platform prices set by all advertisers. Relative to auctions, the optimal managed campaign raises off-platform product prices and further reduces consumer surplus.