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By prioritizing context and understanding over “attention,” Vox Media is poised for growth

October 27, 2020 | By Dave Constantino, Senior Director of Client Development – Oracle Data Cloud @OracleDataCloud

Dave Constantino, Senior Director, Client Development of Oracle Data Cloud talks to Edwin Wong, SVP of Insights & Innovation at Vox Media about how strategy and tech power advertiser flexibility, immersive content, and emerging formats.


DC: Vox Media is seen as a trusted resource for its clients, from being a strategic partner to a thought leader. What are the short and long-term opportunities that you see for the advertising industry to transform and connect brands and publishers more closely to consumers? 

EW: As a modern media company, we help brands reach audiences wherever they are – across nearly every platform including TV and streaming, podcasting and digital. In the short-term, we are focused on offering brands flexibility, which continues to be a major priority for every advertiser at this moment. Long-term, we are modernizing the ways brands can work with us on brand building across the modern platforms where audiences are.

In long-term planning, we are putting greater emphasis in areas with strong growth in consumer engagement and areas where we can broaden the opportunity for marketers to work with us. This can be seen across the growth of our podcast network and our investment in our ad marketplace.

We’re excited about the opportunity in podcasting. The medium represents a shift from quick feed-based media experiences. It gives listeners a chance to lean in, connect, and immerse themselves around a subject. In fact, we found that 74% of listeners believe podcasts provide content not available elsewhere.

Investment in local journalism also presents a significant opportunity for marketers looking to reach local audiences at a national scale. We found that 38% of local news site visitors do not visit any national news sites. This means a large audience is not being reached by brands who only advertise on national news properties.

The study also found that a localized version of an ad (i.e. creative that included the name of the city) in a locally relevant environment performs significantly better compared to a non-localized creative on a national news site. In fact, almost every brand metric we measured was significantly higher among those who viewed this localized experience compared to viewers of a national news site. There’s a real opportunity there for brands to reach audiences and support local media. 

DC: Brand safety has been top-of-mind for brands long before the woes of 2020; how do you see advertisers navigate this shift from brand safety to suitability?

EW: News around the pandemic, the much-needed rise of awareness around systemic racism and climate change have caused the definition for what is considered “brand safe” to evolve along with our current reality. Early on, brands cautiously steered clear from any association with news and stories around the pandemic. We also saw brand safety go past its intended solution when ads were blocked on the home pages of Vox, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal around coronavirus content.

We are also seeing a shift in advertisers reassessing how their actions and their marketing budgets reflect their values as a company. More than ever, employees and customers are holding companies accountable for following through on the values they are communicating to the world. Every company needs to take into account how they are allocating their resources, whether its advertising budgets or team resources. 

To reach a place where brands feel safer spending on the open web, part of the solution will be for publishers, like Vox Media, to build opportunities for advertisers to align themselves with quality, trusted content. Publishers should be focused on solutions where brands aren’t being forced to sacrifice quality or brand safety for scale.

Another part will be to help our partners understand how and when our audiences want to hear from brands. In fact, this year we learned 86% of our audience strongly believes that making great products is no longer enough. Brands also need to make society better.

I believe that, in the last decade, we celebrated the entertainment and engagement of the feed. The next will be more about the understanding, activation, and change from the stories we report and tell each other.

We must recalibrate what brand safety looks like in this new context.

DC: What do we need to get done in what’s left of 2020? And what do we prioritize in early 2021 to ensure that we are moving the industry forward?

EW: It’s time to redefine the concept of contextual targeting and how we use first party data. Vox Media has always believed that the context and engagement of content can be a strong signal when it comes to audience targeting. This is a key part of driving the industry forward. On the data and audience privacy side, 2021 will have wide implications of how we use data when engaging our consumers.   

When quality content is matched with people’s passions and interests, it creates a much richer picture of who the audience is, why they are there and what motivates them. When we do this right, we no longer base contextual targeting on just the individual, an individual action, or an individual piece of content, but on what our platforms deliver for the audience holistically. It changes the retroactive perspective of targeting and makes context targeting future-facing.

Compared to behavioral targeting, we also found contextual ads are also more inclusive. We recently worked with a client recently to reach Small Business owners across the U.S. We found that with personalized behavioral ad targeting, only 27% of the impressions reached women. But when we optimized with contextual targeting, 40% of the impressions reached women. What percentage of small business owners in the U.S. are women? 38%.

DC: Our industry values scale, clicks, views, but what about impact, connections, and loyalty? Can you talk to the sweet spot of setting a strategy that enables you to find audiences and earn their attention?

EW: We prioritize perspective, context, and understanding over “attention.”

Our networks have made strong impact, connections and built loyalty with audiences across a number of platforms, covering nearly every topic. We’ve put a focus on growing our consumer revenue lines of business, across subscriptions and commerce. And we’ve seen New York Magazine and The Strategist have record months this year and Vox launched a successful contributions program. These are all built on audience loyalty and trust.

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