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Publishers hold a strong hand for the future of advertising; now they must play it wisely

June 7, 2022 | By Katie Millington, Head of North America Publisher Sales – Permutive @permutive

Concerns around consumers’ online privacy, particularly how businesses can collect, store, and utilize consumer data, have captured regulators’ attention. The resulting regulations are causing platform-level changes that will force the advertising ecosystem—and the adtech that supports it—to evolve and be more responsible with consumers’ data. The good news is that publishers have long had benefit of their close, trust-based relationship with consumers. If well-managed and wisely leveraged, this gives them a data-advantage in the evolving ecosystem.

Certainly, when platforms such as Google, Apple, and Facebook address their data practices, it impacts the entire ecosystem. The cookie-blocking changes that Apple has made in Safari and the anti-tracking movement across its app ecosystem are already having a significant impact on how advertisers track and target consumers with relevant ads.

In April of this year, Google reengineered the consent pop-up message throughout Europe to make it equally easy for users to “reject all” cookies as it is to “accept all.” As a result, some publishers have seen a 55% opt-out rate. As this opt-out culture among consumers grows across regions, including the U.S., publisher data becomes even more valuable. Eventually, we will see a global shift toward data privacy that prioritizes user consent.

User opt-in is key

Much of the advertising industry debate to date has focused on the upcoming deprecation of third-party cookies, However, the issues around consumers opting out of sharing data for advertising purposes are much broader and require urgent consideration. This is significant for the entire adtech community, advertisers and publishers. When a consumer hits “reject all,” the ad tech that support programmatic advertising—targeting in particular—stops working.

We have already seen with Apple ATT that over half of iOS users opted out of being tracked by apps and marketers when presented with the choice. This, coupled with the opt-out rate publishers are experiencing in Europe, demonstrates that consumers are actively controlling what data they share with companies.

The next era of ad tech is about user opt-in. Meta has recognized this too. The recent Meta breach, which suggests their ad business is likely non-compliant with GDPR and upcoming privacy regulations, shows that walled gardens aren’t immune from the impact of privacy regulation despite being closed ecosystems.

The regulatory requirement is full oversight and understanding of the data within these walls and enforcing users’ preferences. It’s why publisher data, made up of contextual and audience first-party signals, becomes an extremely valuable commodity in advertising. 

The value of publisher data

Advertisers will find the most effective way to reach customers is by working with publishers who have and can continue to collect first-party data, plus contextual insights that are not impacted by consent.

These include behavioral signals, such as time of day, clicks, scrolling, and video engagement, which are gathered when a user browses a web page; and contextual data, through the content being consumed and metadata, such as locations searched, description, topics, and keywords. Publishers can also gather insights from declared data, which is provided directly to a publisher by users and subscribers, data such as the purpose of visiting, industry, or preferences about certain topics or content.

In this ecosystem, publisher first-party data increases in value because it provides advertisers with the opportunity to target consumers based on consented data and contextual insights. Publishers that recognize the value of their data assets and educate advertisers on what’s possible and privacy-compliant can unlock new, sustainable revenue opportunities.

Fortunately, we are already experiencing a move from the open to a more direct relationship between the buy- and sell-side. When publishers and advertisers work closer together and view adtech as an enabler rather than an intermediary, they can responsibly activate audiences.

Moving forward responsibly

The current disruption we see has always been about more than third-party cookies; it’s about the demand for consumer privacy. Going forward, the ability to track and enforce user consent of first-party data at a granular level can’t just be a bolt-on–it must be treated with the highest importance. When publishers and advertisers work together and build direct relationships, they are in control of how audience data is used, be it for insights, activation, or collaboration. Adtech provides the tools to foster collaboration with controls and permissions. When this happens, publishers regain their place in the advertising ecosystem and the industry moves to a more responsible web. 

About the author

Katie Millington is the Head of North America Publisher Sales for Permutive. In her current role, she is responsible for leading Permutive’s North American Publisher Sales Team. Katie has previously held roles at the likes of Vox Media and Mediacom and has a decade of experience in the digital media industry. An agent for change, Katie is driven by innovative technologies that disrupt the status quo, evident in her background as an early proponent of publisher first-party data and programmatic advertising

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