Redefining audiences for more addressable digital advertising
The pandemic has helped shake the perception that digital equals performance - and has helped buyers recognise that each channel, platform, and publisher has a nuanced role to play. By Emma Newman
The global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of digital media consumption across all channels in a way that no one could have predicted. For the online advertising industry, this acceleration is providing vital insights into the future of digital media planning and buying.
We often talk about how consumers have more choice over how and where they consume content than ever before. The much less discussed impact of this is that brands have more choice over how and where they find and engage their audiences.
Couple this with the demise of the cookie and you may be left wondering whether the online advertising industry as we know it will exist for much longer - and if not, what does the future look like?
The biggest issue that the digital ad market has created for itself is that we treat everything in the same way. In some ways this has been driven by the walled gardened behemoths who have had, and always will have the best data and have used this advantage to persuade advertisers that that is what digital advertising is all about.
Generally speaking, premium digital publishers stem from print titles, some of which date back to the 1700s. This gives them a huge advantage over digitally native publishers - they know how to capture and maintain human attention in a meaningful way thus have loyal audiences who proactively seek their content.
This is great for advertisers as they know that if they buy from a premium publisher their ads are served alongside quality content to highly engaged audiences. However, a single premium publisher will never have as much data as a Facebook or a Google - yet they are expected to trade and perform in the same way.
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped shake the perception that digital equals performance and has helped buyers recognise that each channel, platform, and publisher has a nuanced role to play and it’s the sum of these roles that matters. In order to build on this, premium publishers need to use technology to demonstrate the value of human attention to advertising performance.
There have been studies that have shown a high correlation between brand uplift and premium content - as an industry we need to make this data widely available and ensure that the right measurement techniques are applied to campaigns to show positive effect on brand goals.
Next generation supply path optimisation
Unlike publishers, whose audiences reside neatly in their own ecosystem, advertisers’ target audiences are sprawled across the internet making it impossible to achieve the required scale through direct buys. Programmatic brings the required scale to the table at the touch of a button but often at the cost of relevancy.
Recently, supply path optimisation (SPO) has come to the fore as a way for buyers to ensure they are working with transparent supply chain partners. Initially they were focused on buying efficiency and inventory quality, one outcome of which was to consolidate the number of partners they were prepared to work with in order to have a clearer ‘path’ to the inventory they wanted to buy.
Now there is a shift to looking at the data within the remaining paths and identifying those that provide buyers with the broadest access to data - we may see this termed “Data Supply Optimisation” or “DSO”. The paths that do not meet the data requirements will be removed and we will see further consolidation.
Increasing buyers’ access to data within the supply chain will enable better decisions to be made as to where the best programmatic paths to premium inventory can be found. Buyers are not averse to buying premium inventory through SSPs, they simply need to be able to demonstrate that doing so generates value which is the part that has been missing.
Pencil is the new pen
Traditional media planning relies heavily on looking at previous performance and overlaying up-to-date trends and forecasts. Today, that formula just simply doesn’t work - there is no comparable era, trends are at best weeks old, and economically and politically the world continues to change on a daily basis.
Add to the equation the fluctuations in supply and pricing that we’re seeing at the moment and you would be forgiven that this is a media planner’s worst nightmare.
From uplifts in streaming viewership, to declines in rail travel, soaring alcohol sales, and increasing bee populations - if you want to know how COVID-19 has affected something, someone out there has already done the research. Savvy media planners are using this to their advantage.
By using multiple, novel data sets buyers are able to create new audience segments that are based on factors that extend well beyond demographics and behaviours. These new segments are then matched to the brilliant supply that is available to enable brands who are still able to advertise to do so in a relevant, scalable way.
The upshot of this is that media planning will never look the same again; we will see unparalleled levels of agility continue as publishers and advertisers traverse the new norm, and the many more new norms that are to come. We’re already seeing this in action as some of the world’s largest brands, including Pepsi-Co and GM are starting to cancel linear TV commitments in favour of CTV advertising.
While there will always be long-term planning and partnerships there will be a lot more ‘pencilled in’ plans as we now know that the online media industry can pivot on a sixpence at a moment’s notice.
Premium goes full throttle
In order to fully realise the potential of digital, publishers need to create a data ecosystem that can compete with the convenience and scale of the big digital platforms. If they don't, buyers will continue to use one-stop-shop solutions rather than trying to navigate a landscape of thousands. Only by being able to look at cross-publisher data will we be able to identify synergies and create premium media buys at significant scale.
The success of the new publisher consortia, many of which can rival the size of the walled gardens, is recognition that cross-publisher data sharing and ad trading works. Now we need to move beyond unifying publisher data and bring advertiser data into the fold.
We need technology that allows brands, publishers, and agencies to compare data sets without having control of data.
We need to give media buyers tools within cross-publisher data platforms that allow them to look at audiences, project trends, find nuances, understand whether an intender on one platform is the same as an intender on another, and how they were identified. Only then will the premium publisher buying route be as easy as Facebook or Google but with the added benefits that come with premium content environments.
Emma Newman is CRO EMEA at PubMatic