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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Changing the conversation with brands about digital advertising

December 14, 2021 | By Elizabeth Petro, Vice President of Publisher Product – Yieldmo @Yieldmo

Digital publishers may want to move to a model that relies on subscription content and direct consumer revenue. However, advertising remains a critical piece of the media revenue equation because it supports consumer access to freely available content – a critical lifeline to information. The last few years have been particularly difficult for digital publishers reliant on advertising, between media budgets getting cut at the start of the pandemic to brands pulling back their spend during our nation’s recent political tumult. According to Pew, digital ad revenue declined 32% in 2020.

User privacy laws serve a huge benefit to consumers, but they represent another significant challenge for digital publishers because brands have become accustomed to buying cookied audiences with increasingly detailed targeting. As users opt-out of cookies on publisher sites, prices for their inventory have plummeted. And brands have moved spend to User Generated Content (UGC) platforms such as Facebook, where user privacy is not a constraint due to the scale of users who  have opted in to allow unbridled tracking in exchange for access to their personal network.

Consumers may pay with their privacy. But these placements don’t come cheap for buyers either. One study estimates that you’ll pay a $3.12 CPM for Google Display Ads vs. $8.60 for Facebook Ads.

Feasibility of maintaining addressability

Digital publishers have been trying to find ways to recapture user identities and extrapolate audiences based on the remaining addressable audience through technologies such as Universal ID, Google Floc and by capturing and passing first-party data. However, many of these tactics run the risk of degrading user trust. And the users who can still be targeted with cookies are expected to be of diminishing value. At best, these efforts stave off the inevitable for a time. But if digital publishers are going to survive, they will have to find new ways to make their inventory attractive to brands.

Capitalize on publisher’s audience insights

Digital publishers who have invested in building a deep understanding of their audience should be able to capitalize on what they do best: creating relevant content with integrity. They can use their expertise to help brands connect based on what an audience cares about rather than using the false precision of demographic targeting as a proxy for buying intent. Private marketplace deals are a great way to reframe a conversation with a brand in terms of what differentiates the audience of a particular publisher which is why PMPs have surpassed open RTB spend because they enable publishers to make specific inventory available to specific buyers based on content/brand alignment.

Leverage data science

To demonstrate the value of their inventory, publishers will need industry-level data science to show connections between product interests and content affinity. They will also need technology that allows them to guarantee brand outcomes on non-addressable campaigns.

Yieldmo currently uses data science models to target campaigns at impressions most likely to meet an advertiser objective (i.e., click-through, video completion, etc.), and the IAB Tech Lab’s Audience Taxonomy has space to capture and pass purchase intent (i.e. is a car intended for the person watching car videos). If a publisher has access to scaled research to show how consumption of specific content relates to product interest and conversion, they can tell the full story.

Earning audience trust

When a user trusts a publisher’s content, they will view their in-context ad experience as trustworthy and relevant, which should be exciting to brands. If brands seek out publishers and content that align with the brand’s values, their message is amplified.

Beyond reach

Publishers will need to produce  new metrics around their  creators and content. Today brands evaluate UGC based on reach (i.e. social follows and unique impressions). Instead, publishers should bring forward how the audience feels about the content and creator as these impact how the brand’s message is received.

What brands can you amplify

Brands waste a lot of cycles on brand safety strategies to avoid content that could lead to a negative association with their brand. Instead, they should be seeking out opportunities for adjacency to content that will create a positive association with their brand or product. Audiences who feel their privacy has been respected are more open, and audiences consuming content that engages them will be more engaged with adjacent messaging.

Social dysfunction

Cookies and granularly-targeted social ads appeal to buyers because they seems like an obvious solution to reach a specific audience. However, the impression is arguably less valuable because users encounter the ad in a busy environment that kind of stresses them out. Like so many things on social, once you dig beneath the surface, the reality leaves much to be desired.

If brands weigh the “influence” of a social following against the influence of a trusted context, they will probably make a different buying decision. So, for media companies to continue to deliver value to readers tomorrow, they must evolve by making their content more attractive to brands within the trusted environments they’ve curated.

Premium value proposition

To effectively present their inventory and get the best price, here are some things to try:

  1. Identify and build relationships with brands who will get the greatest benefit from with your content.
  2. Package your content into PMPs that will support specific brand objectives and make it clear in your pitch.
  3. Sell based on the strength of your audience.
  4. Share page analytics and social listening metrics with your buyers.
  5. Use data science to find relationships between the content you publish and other user interests.
  6. Find a tech partner that enables you to target desired behaviors and advertiser KPIs.

Realistically, publishers can’t compete with the social juggernauts on low level targeting. Therefore, they will need to win on the basis of their unique audience insights and user trust. I’m excited to see publishers create new strategies and leverage data science for better brand outcomes — and better revenue.

About the author

Elizabeth Petro joined Yieldmo as Vice President of Publisher Products in June. She is currently focused on helping publishers thrive in the transition to user privacy by enabling publishers to curate their inventory for the best-suited buyers and by giving them more insights and control. She has also held leadership positions at Pandora and Razorfish.

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