Learning in Repeated Auctions with Budgets: Regret Minimization and Equilibrium

Learning in Repeated Auctions with Budgets: Regret Minimization and Equilibrium

By Santiago Balseiro, Yonatan Gur
2017Working Paper No. 3500

In online advertising markets, advertisers often purchase ad placements through bidding in repeated auctions based on realized viewer information. We study how budget-constrained advertisers may compete in such sequential auctions in the presence of uncertainty about future bidding opportunities and competition. We formulate this problem as a sequential game of incomplete information, where bidders know neither their own valuation distribution, nor the budgets and valuation distributions of their competitors. We introduce a family of practical bidding strategies we refer to as adaptive pacing strategies, in which advertisers adjust their bids according to the sample path of expenditures they exhibit, and analyze the performance of these strategies in different competitive settings. We establish the asymptotic optimality of these strategies when competitors’ bids are independent and identically distributed over auctions, but also when competing bids are arbitrary. When all the bidders adopt these strategies, we establish the convergence of the induced dynamics and characterize a regime (well motivated in the context of online advertising markets) under which these strategies constitute an approximate Nash equilibrium in dynamic strategies: the benefit from unilaterally deviating to other strategies, including ones with access to complete information, becomes negligible as the number of auctions and competitors grows large. This establishes a connection between regret minimization and market stability, by which advertisers can essentially follow approximate equilibrium bidding strategies that also ensure the best performance that can be guaranteed off equilibrium.

Keywords
sequential auctions, online advertising, online learning, dynamic games