Interview: Craig Tuck on the many layers of Ozone
There is barely an inch of industry that has been left untouched by the tumultuous events of the first half of 2020.
For the world of digital advertising, and programmatic in particular, this year was always set to be one of reckoning - and that was even before a worldwide pandemic struck.
We talked to Craig Tuck, Chief Revenue Officer of The Ozone Project, to find out how the premium publisher alliance has been navigating these past few months.
Craig, we can’t start this conversation without addressing the impact of coronavirus. What’s that been like for Ozone?
Like most organisations out there, it’s fair to say this pandemic took us by surprise. As a relative start-up, moving into our second full year of trading, our focus was on bringing new clients into our brand-safe, transparent ecosystem and evangelising about our future-proofed digital advertising platform.
When lockdown happened we saw a lot of re-evaluation of advertiser plans, refocusing of messages, and many new brands turning to Ozone as they sought to engage and reassure their customers in trusted environments.
In many ways the future we were building towards in the mid to long-term, actually came to us much quicker.
Why do you think advertisers turned to Ozone during this time?
The last few months have really accentuated what makes Ozone different to other digital advertising platforms. Across all of our publishers, we’ve seen record audiences create even more opportunities for brands - a feat that was driven by more than just COVID content as categories such as Sports, Business or Entertainment provided the opportunity for reader escapism, as much as information.
Trade bodies like Newsworks and Magnetic have long-proven that premium publishing environments generate greater reader attention that leads to even better advertising results - through the pandemic this has only been amplified.
On top of this, Ozone as a digital platform makes it really easy for brands to engage with those attentive audiences. We offer a single point of access, and a single view of users data, across nine of the UK’s leading publisher groups.
We deliver broadcast scale with great frequency, reaching over 99% of the nation’s online population and seeing 63% of them every day. Finally we’re brand-safe and fully transparent - considerations that are higher than ever on the marketer’s agenda.
So let’s talk about brand safety and transparency as they’ve both had their fair share of headlines this year. What does Ozone do to counter advertiser concerns in these areas?
Taking brand safety first, you can’t have missed the Newsworks’ #BackdontBlock campaign urging advertisers to re-evaluate their coronavirus blocklists. The pandemic has become such a way of life that it is now understandably woven into many areas of our content; from recipes to fitness, tv and entertainment, and of course the news.
Not all of this content is negative - in fact much is positive and upbeat - yet it’s important to remember even the most tragic pieces of content are appearing on regulated, editorially-governed websites.
One of the major concerns over keyword blocking is that it diverts programmatic spend from text heavy environments like our publishers, into the internet’s long-tail of unregulated content. We believe brand safety starts with an active choice to appear in premium environments like our publishers, rather than taking a chance on where you might appear through open market programmatic.
Of course, many brands need deeper assurances and that’s why our brand safety solutions go beyond the rudimentary keyword signals that create blocks - e.g. from page URLs - to deep analysis of the rich context and sentiment of each page to ensure it is safe or suitable for that advertiser.
What about transparency? What makes Ozone different from the rest?
Quite a lot actually, particularly if we take the latest ISBA and PwC study into transparency in the programmatic supply chain as our point of reference - we’ve all read about the ‘mess’ that programmatic is in, or that only half of advertisers’ budgets reach publishers, or that there’s a 15% unknown delta. This moment in time is causing advertisers to reflect on where their ad spend is going and what it’s funding.
And this is where Ozone is different. We bridge the gap between the advertiser and the publisher to ensure they remain the principals in the advertising relationship, and we believe that all others in the supply chain should work on their behalf.
That is why all advertiser spend into Ozone reaches our publishers who then pay us like they would one of their own operational teams.
The second part of our transparency approach comes from our portfolio of premium publishers. Brands know that by advertising through Ozone, they will only appear across the 90+ trusted publisher sites we represent, that collectively have near universal reach of the UK online population.
Compare that with the ISBA PwC report that highlighted the average advertiser campaign in their study appeared on over 40,000 - yes 40,000 - different domains.
The year started with many headlines heralding the demise of the third party cookie. How is Ozone preparing for this?
While the deprecation of third party cookies will have an effect on our business, it won’t be a material one. If anything, we see it more as an opportunity to create more direct connections with brands and buyers using publisher first party data.
Much of the discussion surrounding future audience ID focuses on persisting with the status quo, because in reality, there is no silver bullet or single concept to replace the third party cookie. What we will need is a mixture of capabilities and technologies to improve the likes of frequency capping, targeting, remarketing, attribution modelling and different methods of measuring success.
At Ozone, we have invested heavily in developing different targeting capabilities, some ID based using our unique access to publishers, but mostly in developing our knowledge and techniques in contextual targeting.
Today about half of our premium campaigns we run use targeting that doesn’t require a 3rd party cookie and we are delivering the same or better ROI for our advertisers.
Finally, Ozone talks a lot about building the digital advertising environment of the future. How exactly will you do this?
We want to make it easy for advertisers to do great things in digital across the country’s most premium publisher environments - and it appears it’s what advertisers want too. As the fallout from the Facebook boycott continues, we’re seeing a growing number of approaches from brands and their agencies looking for a trusted, broadcast-scale alternative.
For a business that was born out of a historic collaboration between our publisher founders, strong and effective working relationships are central to the Ozone proposition.
We have a desire to make digital and programmatic less complex, and much of that starts with strengthening the direct relationship between brands and their agencies and our publishers.
We remove unnecessary intermediaries - or indeed reconfigure these relationships to ensure they work better for the advertiser and the publisher - to make marketing budgets more effective.
While we technically integrate with some buyers to help them deploy their media programmatically across our publisher portfolio, we also offer a managed service solution that allows our skilled team to optimise client campaigns.
While the societal and industry events of the first six months of 2020 have accelerated the dawning of a new digital future, this is exactly what Ozone was created for.
Exciting times lie ahead.