It’s not hard to see that digital advertising is undergoing another paradigm shift. Spurred by pandemic-fueled online use and continued cyber-driven attacks, consumers are becoming more aware of internet dangers. From ransomware and credit card theft to scams and inappropriate content, consumers have had enough.
Recognizing this sentiment, brands seek to showcase how they contribute to building a better world as evidenced by multiple initiatives covering diversity, sustainability, and responsible programming. For publishers, this consumer-first mentality extends to the online environment, where brands are looking to safeguard consumer expectations of privacy and security.
Welcome to digital trust and safety.
A new era in digital
Digital trust and safety requires understanding and addressing the harmful content and/or conduct experienced by consumers when accessing websites/mobiles apps. This ranges from how digital products are built, managed, and promoted through to how they make consumers think, feel, and act. In effect, it’s all about putting the consumer at the center of decisions regarding their online experience.
This thinking is critical when you consider the different risks faced by different consumers, especially the more vulnerable members of society, e.g., elderly, children, technologically naive.
Layer on the reality of targeting and national security risks become apparent as government and military employees are consumers, too.
Accepting responsibility for the consumer experience transforms how the industry—brands, AdTech, publishers—approaches its contribution to the consumer experience. Instead of focusing on activity that affects a business (viewability, ad fraud or brand safety), you prioritize actions that impact the consumer to build trust. As Conny Braams, Unilever’s Chief Digital and Commercial Officer recently acknowledged, “The currency in Web 3.0 is not crypto, it’s trust.” It has become clear: Digital trust and safety is the next phase in the digital evolution chain.
The evolution is underway—just look at the new and growing crop of job titles on LinkedIn.
Factors driving digital trust and safety
Going beyond ad fraud, content moderation, bots and other brand-oriented initiatives, digital trust and safety is all about the consumer. It is driven by security, data privacy, and trusted content.
Security: Protecting consumers and their devices from malicious, anomalous, compromised, or non-compliant code that enables distribution of backdoors, credit card theft, ransomware, cryptomining, etc.
Data privacy: Guarding against unauthorized tracking of consumer activity, especially when performed by unknown parties
Trusted content: Ensuring the substance of the experience doesn’t endanger consumer well-being, e.g., false claims, misinformation, online scams, etc.
With digital at the nexus of companies and consumers, there’s nothing more important than safeguarding the user experience. It’s more than ad fraud and blocking ads. This focus on safety and security encompasses the entire consumer experience.
Adopting a consumer-first approach isn’t hard, but it does require unwavering dedication. Once executives agree that consumer well-being is important, this thinking will cascade to permeate all aspects of the business. All it takes is consistently asking and documenting the impact on consumers for key touchpoints and commercial initiatives, from product introduction and feature development to marketing promotions and customer service. This guiding principle will add clarity to and inform decisions. It can also serve as a competitive differentiator elevating your business in the eyes of the market.
Collectively, the industry needs to stop harmful activity as it enters the digital ecosystem and ultimately before it is served to consumers. Frankly, it’s the right thing to do. That’s how we engender trust, and a trusting consumer will buy more (90% of consumers would buy more from a brand they trust).
Ask yourself: Are you willing to put the consumer first when it comes to digital? I’m game. Are you?
When the sole motive is profit, publishers fail. Clickbait creative may generate short-term revenue, but it sharply degrades user experience. When publishers put consumers at the center of their monetization strategy, revenue follows.
Digital publishers must recognize that user protection and user experience go hand in hand and act on the sizable gaps left in both. We define clickbait as creative engineered to intentionally elicit clicks through manipulation and psychological engineering via sensationalist text or imagery. With 85% of the ads served today delivered through programmatic channels, entry points are exploitable enough that 56% of publishers now regularly face clickbait ads on their sites.
When confronted with clickbait campaigns, users won’t hesitate to write off a publisher’s brand. Audiences will bounce from the site or avoid clickbait. So, even short of full scale audience alienation, clickbait damages the site’s metrics, which will discourage high-quality advertisers from buying inventory, and ultimately sinking CPMs and overall revenue. GeoEdge research revealed that in 2021 over three-fourths of publishers’ sites user experience was harmed by poor ad quality and 66% reported bad ads impacted their bottom line.
Securing landing pages from scams
Rooting out clickbait requires close scrutiny that goes beyond just the creative. The greatest risk to user protection is often found on an ad’s landing page. Once a user clicks on a salacious creative, they are often tossed to an entirely unrelated landing page that might be pushing a range of scams from investment schemes and counterfeit products to miracle cure products and services. Recent GeoEdge research in collaboration with Wizzco revealed that 81% of publishers are concerned that poor ad quality may cost them their users. Publishers agreed that quality pertains to ads and landing pages alike, with 65% stating that ad content and landing page safety are equally important.
While there is a range of intermediaries along the supply chain between advertisers and end-users, keeping a page clean of clickbait ads is a publisher’s responsibility. A user-first approach to monetization requires that publishers own all touchpoints with their audiences, from the editorial content to the ad content and all accompanying landing pages. Publishers can implement technology to tackle the three leading clickbait cases including:
Financial scams use deceptive tactics to take advantage of financial products and services, including cryptocurrency and other investment opportunities.
Misleading product offers typically include listings of unverified products and services promising miracle cures and results most commonly falling under health and wellness.
Brand infringement offers well-disguised counterfeit versions of trusted goods by impersonating brands or businesses, advertising them at low-cost prices.
The future of publisher monetization
Every publisher maintains different standards for brand-suitable advertising, but the threshold for user protection is not subjective. Publishers’ primary purpose is to deliver valuable content to audiences. Therefore, the same attention must be put into curating ad experiences as into editorial content. Building a holistic user experience enables you to achieve meaningful, relevant engagement and increase user lifetime value.
It can be easy to overlook all of the places that users interact with your brand, so securing every touchpoint is crucial to a successful user-first approach to monetization. Enforcing user protection standards requires real-time technology to ensure landing page content, and ad content meets publisher standards.
It’s up to publishers to implement a user-first approach, educate their teams about the risks of clickbait ads, and find the right partnership to provide transparency in a complex supply chain.
The value of the trust relationship between the publisher and the user cannot be overlooked.
The strength of this foundation is what determines publishers’ long-term profitability.
Trust is elusive of a simple measurement. However, publishers must begin to recognize the cost of negative ad experiences. While the long-term future of publisher monetization is programmatic, we must be careful not to sacrifice audience loyalty in favor of short-term revenue.
Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan co-starred in Space Jam. Bill Cinton was re-elected to serve a second term as President of the United States. Tiger Woods became a professional golfer. The Summer Olympics were hosted in Atlanta. And washingtonpost.com went live. What do all of these events have in common? They all took place in 1996.
It has been 25 years since those first readers could get their news from The Washington Post online. Back then, Post articles couldn’t be “googled,” since Google — as a company — would be founded two years later. And sharing a news article with friends couldn’t involve Facebook or Twitter, as these networks wouldn’t come to market for eight and 10 more years, respectively… TikTok was only the sound an analog clock made and early-social media adopters were closer to Tom being their first friend on MySpace than influencers going viral and becoming millionaires from creating content on Instagram, Snapchat and/or YouTube.
News consumption was a one-size fits all paradigm: heard or seen via broadcast news on TV or radio, read from printed ink on paper, and skimmed from websites that were effectively static brochureware representations of their print big brothers (with some supplemental content online). There was no personalization. The model was one-to-many: here are the top things reader X, Y and Z need to know to stay informed. That model is changing and has changed. And The Post has shown success in personalizing the news to readers’ interests through My Post, newsletter subscriptions and much much more.
Stay tuned, Washington Post readers are about to see more personalization in 2022!
Creating and distributing the news: then vs. now
An “Apple-to-Apple” Comparison of Reading The Washington Post on December 20 in 1996 and 2021 through then-Modern Apple Technology:
Change is good. But change needs to be managed. A lot has changed in this last quarter century at the intersection of media and technology. The Post has responded to change by building new systems that manage how content is created, distributed and amplified. But one thing has remained constant — great reporters and editors create great journalism.
Another constant is that quality journalism will be seen or heard by consumers looking to stay informed. And it can shine through the cloudy haze of mis-and-disinformation maliciously shared online.
Although these constants of good journalism from trusted institutional brands and other media players communicating the news remains, how consumers get their news has certainly changed with the times. In today’s digital new media landscape, according to The Pew Research Center, “more than eight-in-ten U.S. adults (86%) say they get news from a smartphone, computer, or tablet ‘often’ or ‘sometimes.’”
As a media AND technology company, The Washington Post has not just followed consumers to their preferred destinations, it has been a leader in creating content and bringing it to readers — readers who may have an interest in politics can get their Daily 202 newsletter emailed to them; food enthusiasts can cook with confidence with Voraciously recipes and guides; podcast listeners can subscribe to Post Reports, Please Go On, Can He Do That, and other audio format news; and over 1.2 million fans of @washingtonpost on TikTok can be informed and entertained by short, witty, videos by a creative team of content creators.
All of this work needs to live somewhere. Platforms, tools and services power this news before it reaches readers’ smartphones, computers, or tablets. The Washington Post has had to understand not just the scalable infrastructure needs of today to deliver this news where and how readers want it, but technology leadership has also had to set the organization up to be successful in the future with new and expanding infrastructure and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) resources. It’s like the old sports adage — Wayne Gretzky wasn’t the fastest skater on the ice in the NHL and he wasn’t the biggest professional hockey player. He was the greatest because he played not to where the puck currently is, but where the puck was going.
The Post’s aspiration and northstar is to not just continue to deliver excellence in journalism, but also to equally deliver excellence in engineering and innovation. The Post is playing to where the innovation puck is going by as, Deloitte Insights suggests, “designing systems in which humans and machines work together to improve the speed and quality of decision-making.” The Post is doing this to improve the reader experience through personalization and to allow company leaders to turn more data into actionable intelligence at scale.
“I’ve always understood and appreciated the work that The Post contributes to the journalistic space, but interviewing [for my role at The Post] quickly made me realize the sophistication behind the engineering effort supporting that mission.”
— Washington Post Data Engineer Jack Miller, who joined The Post in 2021.
Data, data, everywhere. Data, data, time to share.
Inside-and-outside of the newsroom, The Post — as a business — relies heavily on data-informed decision making at strategic and operational levels. Over the years, in addition to the increased need to approach data management in a holistic way, The Post has experienced a significant increase in subscriptions and traffic across various platforms and channels. This increased data volume and velocity coupled with new sources and complexities has created new challenges (and opportunities) to turn raw, siloed and unstructured data into business intelligence.
To address these challenges/opportunities and gain maximum journalistic and business benefits from reader interests, The Post began to develop a more integrated approach to data management in 2021 under the leadership of Beth Diaz (Vice President of Audience Development & Analytics), Venkatesh Varalu (Head of Data and Analytics), and in collaboration with leaders across Subscriptions, Advertising, Newsroom, Marketing, Finance, Product and Engineering.
This data was available and accessible prior to 2021, but The Post began to manage it in a more innovative, agile and programmatic way. Under this new approach, customer data is being positioned to power various marketing and reader personalization efforts through enhanced workflows, automations and data activations via homegrown tools or services and vendor platforms. The Post is calling this macro-initiative WaPo 360.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of data. Working as a newsletter analyst, I got the opportunity to explore The Post’s various data sets to answer interesting questions about how our readers behave, and to find evidence of what works best for keeping them engaged,” said WaPo 360 Senior Data Engineer Patrick Haney. “It was a fantastic experience. However, while working with these data sets, it became almost immediately clear that they weren’t arranged in an optimal format for analysis. Answering simple business questions could take hours instead of minutes due to the siloed nature of each data set, along with the business logic that needed to be applied in a consistent fashion and often it required reaching out to a subject matter expert for validation.”
“I was ecstatic when I learned about this new data integration initiative because it would solve all these aforementioned issues and enable analysts and non-analysts to quickly and efficiently use our data to answer vital business questions,” said Haney regarding his choice to transfer from one Post team onto another.
According to a recent Deloitte study, “most executives do not believe their companies are insight-driven. Fewer than four in 10 (37 percent) place their companies in the top two categories of the Insight-Driven Organization (IDO) Maturity Scale, and of those, only 10 percent fall into the highest category. The remaining 63 percent are aware of analytics but lack infrastructure, are still working in silos, or are expanding ad hoc analytics capabilities beyond silos.”
WaPo 360 will improve the turn-around time for The Post to turn data and signals into insight-driven business decisions.
WaPo 360 and the engineering experience
When he applied to work at The Post, Jack Miller said his “interviewers stressed the importance of the WaPo 360 project across many different verticals within the organization. Being able to join a growing team supporting that project was a huge reason why I decided to pursue the position and so far it has been a great experience.”
Fellow team Data Engineer Zach Lynn agrees, saying, “the WaPo 360 project struck me as an excellent opportunity to learn and also support The Washington Post’s core mission.” Lynn’s interest included working in several business areas and collaborating with other software teams.
The first step of WaPo 360 has been focused on stitching data signals from various data sources together. Data that previously was unstructured and accessible only to data analysts is becoming democratized for Washington Post engineers and technical business users. This first pillar of work is essentially warming up the oven and organizing all of the ingredients to make it easier for business stakeholders, in different departments, to bake their own pies. Data from site and app traffic, newsletter engagements, ads, subscriptions, and other sources are becoming more structured in WaPo 360 through Customer 360 — our first pillar of the initiative.
A Washington Post data analyst recently presented how his work has been impacted by WaPo 360. In his presentation, he outlined how he experienced a nearly 96% improvement in a SQL query run time by switching data sources from the siloed unprocessed data that he was looking for to the same data signals that were structured and pre-processed in WaPo 360. As noted earlier, different data sets have been accessible before 2021, but with WaPo 360, The Post is turning data into intelligence and making it easier for staff to do their jobs. WaPo 360 is essentially replacing their hand tools with power tools.
WaPo 360 and the business-user experience
The data that is becoming structured and pre-processed in Customer 360 isn’t just going to live on an island to be visited by data analysts and data engineers. The second pillar of WaPo 360 is to make that data accessible to those with a business need to access it, in anonymized ways, through improved self-service tools.
Joshua Zieve, Senior Data Analyst, joined the WaPo 360 team, to “help catalyze The Washington Post’s data sources to better understand and serve our current and prospective readership.” Zieve has been active in coordinating with business and technical users on many fronts. “Working across the Analytics & Engineering teams, I’m grateful for the opportunity to develop systems that facilitate, deepen and expedite analytics for use-cases throughout the organization,” Zieve said.
Good data is the foundation for WaPo 360 and that leads to personalization benefits. Following the team’s work in delivering structured data in Customer 360, WaPo 360 sends relevant data to power the business use-cases that Zieve references into a new Customer Data Platform (CDP). The CDP then works as an engine to allow business-users to perform exploratory data analysis, build audience segments, create marketing and reader engagement campaigns, analyze their success, then deliver an improved personalized experience to readers through integrations with Washington Post-built tools and popular offsite services that The Post utilizes to reach potential readers.
“[I’m] most excited about the self-service potential for The Post’s newsroom and business teams … with data in one place, which is aggregated and ready to be queried, users can get their data without waiting for The Post’s Analytics team to prepare the data. For the Analytics team, this will also reduce time spent for serving ad hoc requests from the newsroom/business side.”
— Sam Han, Director of Zeus Technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) / Machine Learning at The Washington Post
WaPo 360 and the reader experience
The Post will be doubling down on personalization in 2022 — directly and adjacent to the work being conducted by the WaPo 360 team.
Early work is underway to improve the onboarding experience for new subscribers. And the team plans to unlock significant opportunities to retool, rethink and reshape how articles are suggested to readers — such as through improved content insights and an updated Content Taxonomy System with new article subjects/topics metadata powering future innovation.
Members of the WaPo 360 team recently presented the team’s work at a company-wide virtual forum. Washington Post Organizational Development Consultant Cameron Booher said, “Planning for any What’s Next event involves talking with many project teams about their ongoing and upcoming initiatives. And the usual format of What’s Next is to highlight three projects from different areas of the business. But it very quickly became evident through conversations just how significant of an undertaking WaPo 360 is. It’s extremely collaborative, and has been built upon expertise from almost every department at The Post. It will be rolled out in various phases, which speaks to the iterative process of develop-test-improve.”
“Some of the insights we’ll gain will help us improve reader and user experiences in spades,” Booher said.
This article originally appeared on Washington Post Engineering and is re-published with permission.
“I had seen diversity initiatives flounder because they were too complicated or too negative an experience for people to take on.” BBC News presenter and 50:50 The Equality Project founder Ros Atkins told researchers at Behavioural Scientist in November 2020.
Atkins had created a data-driven initiative in 2017 to increase women’s representation on media content. According to the academics, it was “easy, attractive, social, and timely.”
While we see the challenges news organizations face as they seek to better represent society as a whole, we also see progress. That is progress that we, at 50:50, are keen to build upon.
Equity: Moving beyond gender
No pressure then as we look to move 50:50 beyond gender. The Behavioural Scientist article came out a month after the BBC announced that we were doing just that. We sought to see if 50:50 could increase disability and ethnic minority representation on media.
In October 2020, as the leader of the BBC’s 50:50 product, I voiced my belief that we could learn from how we had increased women’s representation in order to extend the scope of our work. That belief has been validated by the latest 50:50 Impact Report, which reveals the BBC’s data beyond gender for the first time.
Five years on from when 50:50 started, I believe we have demonstrated the benefits of increasing the diversity of voice on media content. Now, we need to sustain that. This year’s results builds on the progress made so far. It sets the foundations for further innovation that will further support content-makers in their mission to reflect the world around them.
Changing for the better
By March 2022, 250 BBC content teams had voluntarily signed up to monitor the disability and/or ethnicity make-up of their output. The good news is that the project continues to move the needle – in a range of areas of equity and representation.
Of those who submitted March data, 21% reached their disability target compared to 15% when they first started monitoring. For ethnic minority representation half reached their target, up from 47%.
Long term change
Some may argue that these sound like small increases. But to be frank: Any improvement is a good sign. I say this, knowing what pilot phase looked like. Some teams were starting at zero representation for disabled people. However, they persevered to move the dial.
Also, this project is about playing the long game. Equity and representation is not one and done. Far from it. The data suggests major gains can be made over time.
Of those monitoring disability for more than 18 months, 53% reached their targets in March. That’s up from 18% when they first started and a 35-percentage point increase. For teams monitoring ethnicity, over the same period, there was a 7-percentage point increase – up from 58% to 65%.
Lara Joannides, the BBC’s Creative Diversity Lead for 50:50, acknowledged there a lot more to do to increase diversity of voice on media content across the board.
“These results are an important milestone as we apply 50:50’s core principles for disability and ethnicity representation. They provide a solid foundation for us to build upon,” said Joannides. “This data allows is us to understand where we can improve, so now we need to go out and find more voices to create content that really reflects society.”
How it works
So how is 50:50 increasing diversity of voice? 50:50 is all about understanding where we are now, so we can make change for the future. Whether its disability, ethnicity or gender representation, 50:50 teams use the core principles Ros Atkins devised in 2017.
Using data to effect change, sees content-makers monitor their content in almost real-time. It mean they can share how they are doing at the next team debrief. Together, the team then decides on any actions needed to reach their monthly target.
Measure what you control, gives the framework for how teams monitor. As I often say, “you can’t change what you can’t control.” That goes for who appears on your control too. So, 50:50 teams are only monitoring who they choose to put on their output.
Never compromise on quality, is the paramount principle. The best contributor must always take part. 50:50 is about enriching storytelling with diversity of voice. To do that that voice has to be the best. As Atkins said, in relation to women, in Behavioural Scientist: “50:50 is not about keeping excellent men out of our programs—it’s about finding many more excellent women contributors.”
While the principles are a terrific foundation, you need to set tangible and realistic goals in order to move forward. When it came to increasing women’s representation it felt like a no-brainer. Overall, teams aim for 50% female contributors over the course of any given month. It is the reason our grassroots initiative is called 50:50.
These targets become more complex when you look at monitoring disability and ethnicity. In general, BBC UK teams work towards the Corporation’s diversity targets: 50% women, 20% Black, Asian and minority ethnic, and 12% disabled representation.
However, teams will adjust those targets in line with their specific audience demographics. For example, when it comes to ethnic minority representation for BBC Scotland, they would be aiming for 8% in line with their population. Meanwhile, BBC London is working towards a 50% target to reflect their audience.
Collecting the data
Armed with targets, teams need to collect the data. 50:50 has created two tailored approaches to collect data for disabled contributors and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
As Joannides explained: “One is by perception, which is how 50:50 has always been done for gender. This means counting based on any publicly available information we have about the contributor. Whether it’s from social media or something they’ve told us themselves. Then the other way, which a small group of teams do, is by collecting actual data.”
Collecting actual data tends to be forms based. This method is being rolled out by BBC Devon across their daytime programming after a successful pilot, and also by 50:50 partners The British Fashion Council.
50:50 gender challenge
It is the second year that 50:50 partner organizations have published their March data alongside the BBC. The 50:50 partner network now spans 30 countries and includes 145 organizations from a wide range of sectors.
Miranda Holt, the external partners lead for 50:50, said the network had grown by 45 new members in the last 12 months.
“We work closely with NHK in Japan, and now reach as far as Mongolia – working with the Media Council there,” said Holt. “50:50 continues to expand in communications companies, law firms, industry regulators and the financial services sector. These organizations show how the 50:50 principles can be applied to any created content – from websites to events to publications. “
Overall, 72 partners submitted their data, up from 41 partners in 2021. Almost half (47%) reached 50% women. For those below the target of 50% women when they first started monitoring, 73% saw an improvement in the gender balance of their content.
As for the BBC when it comes to increasing women’s representation, 61% reached 50:50 compared to 35% when they first joined the project. The proportion of teams reaching 50:50 went up to 69% for those monitoring gender for at least four years.
What I find most heartening is that BBC audiences continue to notice an increase in women’s representation. And many are enjoying content more as a result.
In March, a survey of 2,032 BBC online users found that of women aged 16 to 34, 62% enjoyed content more. That’s up from 57% on the previous year, and 68% were consuming more content, an increase of 10 percentage points.
A 50:50 future
This year the BBC is celebrating 100 years of broadcasting. The Corporation’s mission continues to be about delivering value to all audiences, whoever and wherever they are.
BBC Director-General Tim Davie said: “The 50:50 Project plays a crucial role in finding new voices and helping us better reflect the audiences we serve.” He added: “It’s already made a huge impact on the BBC and our global partners. There’s potential to do so much more.”
And there is more to come, as BBC Creative Diversity Director June Sarpong explained: “50:50’s next steps will be to gather data on the representation of class within BBC content to see how well we reflect socio-economic diversity and – crucially – where we need to improve.”
She continued: “Can it be done? Well, as James Baldwin says, ‘nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ So it is heartening that 50:50 is starting to face this.”
Lately, there has been much investor handwringing over CTV investments. With Netflix’s latest results, some worry that if Netflix’s growth has stalled, the prospects for everyone else may be diminished as well. This is why the same day that Netflix stock came down 35+%, there were also (albeit much smaller) declines in other broadcast stocks too.
But the concerns may be misplaced. If YouTube can build a $28.8B annual revenue advertising business, without subscriptions, surely there’s hope that Netflix and other media brands with strong content catalogs can build and sustain ad-supported offerings.
The YouTube business
To better understand the YouTube business, MediaRadar took a look at the mix of YouTube’s current advertising. For this analysis we reviewed pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll ads from the largest 3,000 YouTube channels across 33 content categories through a panel of over 2 million users.
What we found was a robust, growing business, with significant lift in advertising revenue the trailing year, but also the number of advertisers, across most product categories, was up. Alphabet Inc, which owns YouTube, recently released FY 2021 numbers. The economics look strong. The company grew revenue 47% in 2021, up to $28.8B. Almost all of this was from ad revenue, with very little from subscriptions. The implications for all broadcasters and publishers is meaningful.
Some view YouTube as a platform only, not as content creator. But this is not quite right. YouTube is a platform of course. But they also invest aggressively in their influencers and third-party content creators. While they don’t finance scripted shows, they don’t leave content creation to chance. They do this by providing physical space, the latest tech, upfront grants, and even assign a manager to advise creators once they hit a certain number of followers. As reported by the WSJ in October 2021 they note YouTube employs 1,000 full-time managers assigned to the top 12,000 creators. With this in mind, there are takeaways for others on how to build a hybrid approach to content creation.
YouTube advertising findings
The industry verticals with the most concentration of ad spend include entertainment, technology, retail, finance, and pharma. Altogether, these categories accounted for 60% of ad placement, and each segment increased > 30% YoY from 2020 to 2021.
Retail and ecommerce advertising are up significantly year-over-year. We observed an increase in ad spend within this category of 109% from 2020. Unlike in certain categories, in retail we continued to see steady growth throughout the year. The Retail Category increased advertising on YouTube by 60% in Q3 2021 and 91% during the Q4 2021 holiday rush.
YouTube’s music content was the most popular in both 2020 and 2021 with advertisers. YouTube benefits from strong renewal rates, but also from new clients. 52% of advertisers in music YouTube channels were new in 2021.
Everyone knows Travel advertising would be up. YouTube did not disappoint. Advertising investment in the Travel vertical grew by 270% YoY from 2020. Some of the ad spend was from kid-friendly vacation destinations and theme parks like Disney World and Discovery Cove. Ad spend increased 8x year-over-year.
Content is key to advertising growth
Next, we looked into YouTube’s programming channels to see what content categories are helping to drive growth of the platform. Interestingly, the most popular among advertisers were the same in 2020 as 2021 – music, kids, society and culture, and gaming.
YouTube’s music content was the most popular both years among advertisers. Furthermore, 52% of the companies investing among YouTube’s music content were newcomers to the category.
Another trend we uncovered was within “kids” content. Advertising investment among travel vertical grew by 270% YoY from 2020. Most of the ad spend was from kid friendly vacation destinations and theme parks like Disney World and Discovery Cove. Ad spend increased 8x among this group.
As we move through 2022 and into 2023, we expect retail ad spend to continue growing on YouTube. YouTube will continue to be a hot-spot for advertising among retail brands.
While ecommerce has had an increasing presence for years, the pandemic likely accelerated this possess by uncovering new technology to help making digital buying easy. YouTube has had success with shoppable experiences, and we expect to see more of them.
Publishers have long understood the value of affiliate revenue and shoppable content. The opportunity here – as demonstrated through YouTube’s success – is to evolve this into video and CTV offerings as well.
It will be interesting to see how the “new normal” plays out post-pandemic. Obviously, the industry and buying behavior has been forever changed. The online video market is also becoming cluttered with numerous CTV and OTT options. Even Disney+ and Netflix are launching advertising-based models. The constantly evolving market will impact the way video is consumed and the methods advertisers need to use to promote their products.
The combination of content and commerce is a strong one. And, as we are seeing throughout the streaming space, content drives audience interest. And audience interest drives ad sales success. YouTube’s success illustrates the opportunity for ad-supported streaming success.
True digital natives, Gen Z grew up with smartphones, social media, and video on demand. “Understanding Gen Z’s media experiences and entertainment preferences is a priority for publishers,” Michelle Manafy, DCN’s Editorial Director, observed, “ because they provide a proxy for the future of digital media.”
Not to be confused with millennials, Gen Z’s outlook and media habits are very much their own. A powerful demographic — and audience — in its own right, Insider Intelligence noted Gen Z is expected to constitute more than one in five (20.2%) of the U.S. population in 2022. With nearly 70 million tweens, teens, and young adults falling into this category, “Gen Z is the most racially, ethnically, and sexually diverse generation in history.”
So, what do we know about this demographic, and how can publishers best reach and engage with them?
1. Understand their social media habits
Given that this group was “born digital” it is no surprise they are active users of social media. One key segment of this demographic, teens, spends around four hours a day on social media new research from Piper Sandler shows. This latest semi-annual Taking Stock With Teens survey also revealed TikTok is teens’ favorite social media platform (33%) surpassing Snapchat for the first time (31%). Instagram ranks third (22%). YPulse’s social media monitor reports that, although Gen Z’s use of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat increased slightly last year, “no platform has seen growth comparable to TikTok’s in 2021.”
2. Create digital campfires
Gaming platforms and emerging social spaces also present some intriguing possibilities. For example, YPulse found Gen Z is more than twice as likely as Millennials to use platforms such as Discord (34% vs. 15%) and Fornite (25% vs. 10%). They are also less inclined to use products like Facebook (42% vs. 75%) and Facebook Messenger (42% vs. 62%) although that may change as they get older.
With roots in gaming culture, but not exclusive to gamers, Wilson argued, “digital campfires have become a force defining not only how Gen Z audiences connect, but also how they experience and shape the culture at large.”
“For that reason, marketers can no longer afford to ignore them,” she said. The same argument can be made for publishers and other content creators too. Twitter Spaces, live streams, and AMAs are just the mainstream tip of this intimacy iceberg. Other platforms like Roblox, Geneva, and Discord should also be on your Gen Z radar.
That means “you must earn their trust, as they need to believe in your product as well as your purpose,” according to Erik Huberman, the Founder & CEO of Hawke Media, a full-service, award-winning marketing consultancy headquartered in L.A.
For media players, that may mean everything from providing more behind the scenes stories on Instagram Stories, as well as having a more defined voice on issues that matter to Gen Z. Those subjects include climate change, social justice and the wider uncertainties faced by this generation; uncertainties impacting Gen Z’s economic prospects and their mental health.
Having a voice on such matters may challenge traditional journalistic concepts of neutrality and objectivity, but can be clearly seen in outlets such as VICE, Complex, and The Recount. These are publishers I find many of my Gen Z students naturally gravitate towards because of this.
4. Lean into theircontent preferences
Video, mobility, and short-form content all matter to this cohort. DCN’s research established the primacy of video. Gen Z values video over other media platforms by a margin of around 2-to-1.
More than half of their daily video viewing is on Netflix and YouTube (both 30%) Piper Sandler showed.The research also found 87% of teens own an iPhone; with 87% expecting an iPhone will be their next phone too.
“Gen Z typically have an attention span of just 8 seconds,” the IAB reported, “a few seconds shorter than millennials, who come in at approximately 12 seconds.” From Under The Desk News on TikTok, to Axios’ penchant for bullet points (a format they’ve trademarked as Smart Brevity®) and the emergence of audio “microcasts,” no medium is immune to this short-form trend. Given that it’s not just Gen Z with infinite sources of distraction and entertainment available to them in the palm of their hand, short-form’s prevalence is only likely to grow.
5. Find fresh ways to make it pay
“The number of those [Gen Z] investing in cryptocurrency in the US increased by a whopping 200% since Q2 2020,” GWI highlighted last month. This presents intriguing possibilities for outlets seeking new content verticals, as well as new ways to secure reader revenue.
As I demonstrated in a list of 231 Ways To Make Media Pay, publishers such as the Chicago Sun-Times, Time, and The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) have already been experimenting with cryptocurrency payments. More widely, Gen Z’s propensity to consume media on platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify may mean they’re more in the habit of paying for premium content.
In a similar vein, the tipping culture manifest in parts of the creator economy also offers some fascinating possibilities. Publishers may want to tap into Gen Z’s relationship with influencers and above-average propensity to use platforms like Discord and Twitch where this type of functionality is baked in.
Lastly, as more and more publishers seek to add e-commerce into their revenue mix, the emergence of social commerce — and Gen Z’s growing habit of not only drawing inspiration from social networks but then purchasing products and services directly through them — is another area publishers must pay heed to.
Implications for publishers
For content creators chasing after Gen Z consumers, the data suggests it is important to be active on newer, more visual, video-led social networks like Instagram and TikTok. At the same time, YouTube remains the most popular social media channel used by Gen Z and the rest of us, a traditional platform many publishers do not make the most of.
And it’s not just social video attracting Gen Z. Spotify’s data shows that Gen Z (and millennials) actively use audio to access diverse viewpoints and to find out about social issues, potentially creating a space to dig deeper and offer more long-form content.
Embracing these platforms, certain characteristics of the gaming ecosystem, as well as the style and tone of voice Gen Z expects from much of the media they consume, is essential if publishers are to develop long-term relationships with Gen Z. Given their size and purchasing power, Gen Z is a group no publisher can afford to ignore.
Targeted contextual and behavioral advertising currently dominate much of the digital advertising marketplace. Behavioral advertising uses personal browser data collected by intermediaries to serve ads to users by assigning them into micro categories. In contrast, contextual advertising serves ads to match the marketer’s requirements.
GumGum, a contextual intelligence company, commissioned Harris Poll to survey consumers to better understand their online advertising preferences. Nearly eight in ten (79%) consumers report being more comfortable seeing contextual ads than behavioral. While more than three-quarters of all people are more comfortable with contextual ads, there are some generational differences: 84% of consumers ages 35 to 44 preferred contextual ads, while 76% and 75% of those between the ages of 18 to 34 and 45 to 54, respectively, preferred a contextual experience.
Personalized ads are not beneficial
In contrast, most respondents (66%) report they are uncomfortable with companies tracking their browsing history to show them personalized ads. Further, women are more uncomfortable with behavioral ads than men (70% vs. 61%). Older adults aged 55+ are also more likely than younger adults to say they are uncomfortable with brands tracking their browsing history.
While marketers often overstate the value of personalized ads, consumers are also uncomfortable when brands use their browsing history and habits to serve personalized ads. Personalization often relies on surveillance advertising, which is data-invasive and has consumers concerned.
Similar trends have also been observed in European research. Last year, Global Witness commissioned YouGov to conduct research among 2,000 regular social media users in France and Germany about personalization in online advertising. The findings show that consumers are uneasy about targeted ads — driven by everything from income and religious views to life events such as pregnancy, bereavement, or illness — and do not want to receive any personalized advertising. Further, approximately 38% of the respondents said they are “creeped out,” and 31% said they feel violated.
Google announced a cookie replacement called FLoC, Federated Learning of Cohorts, in mid-2021. The company planned to shift online advertising tracking from user to group tracking. However, many voiced concerns that users could potentially be identified within cohorts. Google’s newest idea in their Privacy Sandbox is an API called Topics, which links user browsing history to topics for interest-based advertising. Unfortunately, there’s a significant disconnect between Google’s Sandbox initiative and consumers’ sentiment from the user privacy perspective.
Contextual advertising addresses consumers’ privacy concerns, allowing publishers to serve more relevant ads to their customers without tracking their browser history. Interestingly, few marketers transitioned their dollars from behavioral advertising to contextual advertising after Google announced the end of cookies in 2022 and then again when it announced its delay until 2023.
The research clearly shows that consumers are uncomfortable with behavioral and personalized ads. As the digital advertising industry moves forward to make changes and create solutions, transparency is essential, and it is necessary to inform consumers on how their data is collected and used. Digital ads that do not make consumers uncomfortable build brand trust and increase the likelihood of a positive response.
The need to evolve in the digital advertising world isn’t anything new. But the end of cookies has driven much speculation and we’re here to debunk some of the uncertainty that comes with it. Given the amount of discussion on the subject of cookies and identity solutions that’s taken place, it’s not surprising that certain common misconceptions have arisen. Let’s clarify what you need to know about identity and address the question of a critical factor in digital advertising: addressability.
“I can wait until the last minute.”
As tempting as it may sound to see what happens when everything is said and done, that approach isn’t in anybody’s best interest. As we’ve discussed before in “Why preparation is key,” solving for identity won’t be a quick fix or happen at the push of a button. Re-strategizing your approach to programmatic advertising requires a series of tests, trials, and adjustments to get it right. This process takes both time and effort. The sooner publishers lock in new solutions and curate new partnerships, the sooner the buy-side can adapt. These steps will enable us to enter 2023 as a unified industry with a tried-and-true approach for success.
“I can only choose one identity provider.”
It’s not uncommon to have one provider for varying solutions. While you may only need one CMP for consent or one DMP for audience segmentation, the same doesn’t necessarily apply to identity. As you evaluate who to leverage for direct deals or contextual targeting, consider as many identity providers as you see fit.
Many publishers scout out a handful before narrowing it down to three to five during the research and development phase. From here, you should test to see which best suits your needs. While you become more familiar with your first-party data, adding additional partnerships enable extra coverage and support. It also allows you to finesse your approach and keep what serves you in your new advertising strategies.
“Identity is an additional stream of revenue.”
When discussing addressability, revenue often arises during conversation. Why wouldn’t it mean more revenue if you’re adding another partner to help you identify and target your users? Additional revenue may be a happy byproduct. However, it’s important to set the right expectations in terms of objectives and results.
Identity should serve as a privacy-first solution to identify and address users that would otherwise be unreachable once third-party cookies are gone. Thus, acting as an alternative means to continue to do what has taken place for years past. A different connection equals a new and improved bidding logic rather than an extra stream. When publishers can address an otherwise blind user, they will see increases to bid rates and bid CPMs in otherwise blind environments.
“I can’t leverage identity since I don’t have emails.”
A theme around email addresses has emerged. Unfortunately, this theme is taking precedence over the real issues here. Yes, having emails is the strongest connection for buyer preference. However, there’s more than one way to address a user that isn’t tied to email alone. Direct deals and contextual targeting can take you part of the way. Identity aids as another layer to help bridge any remaining gaps.
You can start with identity, end with identity, or choose identity alone and regardless – it will take you just as far. The good news for publishers and advertisers alike is that identity allows you to target your end-user and target them 100% of the time. Thus, allowing for both addressability and scale. Some partners may only support hashed emails, whereas others can support declared and inferred signals. This is the common currency that will take you all the way and then some. It is crucial to understand what you’re working with and who or what you need.
“I’ll let the identity provider do all the work for me.”
Third-party cookies allowed publishers to put their advertising needs in the hands of others. Thus, letting them focus on other efforts in parallel. The role of conjuring up a game plan is now in the hands of the publisher. SSPs will still play a role and will continue to be there in support. Yet, it’s now up to the publisher to understand their data and make the best use of it for their own return or gain.
Adopting an identity partner alone isn’t a solution. Identifiers should empower publishers to protect their data and protect their users while using said data to convert into currency. Identifiers enable publishers to have the means to address their users in a safe and controlled environment. However, what they do with those IDs is in their court. Use the time to gain a better understanding of your first-party data and ensure the rest of the ecosystem is equipping itself with support.
At the end of the day, we all have the same goal which is why working together is the best approach. Publishers can make the most of their advertising strategies by confronting these common misconceptions in the name of addressability. With the right finesse, breaking down these barriers ultimately paves way for a future that educates, enables, and empowers media owners to address more users at full scale. As well as allowing them to maximize their value of inventory with a new form of currency. The coming changes allow for new and exciting opportunities, should they be properly seized, and should proper expectations be set.
Just a few weeks ago, Think Premium Digital in Australia launched part three of their research into the effectiveness and competitiveness of premium digital video. As the ex-CMO and ex-CEO of GroupM, I love to see the investment in quality research to help lift the performance of marketing and challenging out of date thinking.
This latest report, called “Not all time spent is equal,” looks at time spent on a platform vs. the advertising attention on that platform. The research shows that time spent on a media platform is not the same as time spent consuming advertising. Publisher premium digital video performed the best in terms of ad exposure and ad attention – beating out YouTube and social platforms.
The research also found that just because consumers are spending hours and hours on a media platform doesn’t automatically qualify it as a great place to advertise to them. The study highlights that ad attention (the time that eyes were on the ad), rather than time spent, should play a more important role in media channel selection. Time spent on a platform is not a suitable proxy for advertising effectiveness and should challenge agency planners to think differently about digital planning.
The new way to choose marketing channels
The obvious question becomes, if time spent is no longer the driving forced behind where advertisers should spend their money, what factors should they take into consideration. Here are three important factors to understand before making a channel choice:
Time spent on platform – Total time spent converts to 10.2% ad exposure for premium video compared to 4.5% for YouTube and0.7% for Social Video.
Ad exposure opportunity – Ad exposure for premium video is 2.2X more than YouTube and 16X more than Facebookin an average hour.
Ad attention is what drives engagement and behavior change – An hour on premium video generates 5 mins of ad attention; 2.6X more than YouTube and 25X more than social video.
Notice time spent is still a consideration – but only part of the equation.
Why attention matters
“Attention” is getting a lot of attention in marketing, advertising and agency discussions – as it should. The pressure on marketing dollars to truly deliver impact and business results has never been higher and selecting the right channel and environment is critical. This is an area where multiple research studies have shown that premium digital video on premium publisher’s sites deliver best in class results.
If the publishing industry ever wanted insights and results to help drive transformation of their video offerings to be a perfect match for advertiser needs, these are those insights. Building premium digital inventory should be every publisher’s priority. Premium video refers to short- and long-form video housed in the digital environments of known and trusted media brands that are brand-safe and offer meaningful scale.
Dr. Duane Varan, CEO of MediaScience, said about this latest piece of research, “Here, we’re looking specifically at these video ads appearing and trying to understand those differences. Similar research needs to be done across 100 other variables. But attention is a good starting point, because if you don’t have attention, you don’t have anything else. Attention is the start of the conversation.”
Dr. Varan added, “As we’ve consistently demonstrated, environments matter. The case for premium video continues to strengthen with this research showing its ability to deliver ad exposure and even more importantly, advertising attention.”
Rethinking your media strategy
Venessa Hunt, General Manager of Think Premium Digital in Australia, wasn’t surprised by the findings given consumption behavior. Where the disconnect comes from is that people aren’t looking at the full picture in the planning processes, she said.
“It’s often frustrated me when we talk about time on reach and exposure to advertising, because they are such different things. If a client is paying for time on a platform, or the ability for time on the platform, it doesn’t potentially benefit the brand. But if the ad isn’t even there, you’re using the wrong data to start that planning process.”
Hunt expected this kind of exposure and attention would become a factor in industry decision making, though she admitted the industry isn’t there yet. Measuring attention is problematic and variable.
“For now, though, we have to start changing the conversation around the planning,” Hunt said. “Why are we spending so much on this platform over another? We’re using time spent as the justification, and the fact everyone is there and there a lot. Sure they are, but there are no ads. Changing the mindset around planning ad exposure and ad attention as opposed to platform exposure and attention is key.”
As the subscriptions race has intensified, media companies are turning their attention to the substantial segments of their audience who aren’t willing — or financially able — to pay for a full subscription. Some are returning to the tried and true tactic of lower-cost ad-supported offerings, while others have doubled down on putting the plus in premium.
News brands have always run the gamut from super-premium to completely ad supported. And some have speculated that the trend of premium digital news offerings – with the notable success of The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Financial Times – bodes poorly for readers in search of quality and value. And the proliferation of low cost or free offerings can often overwhelm, and even under-inform when consumers actually avoid the news.
It’s possible that a new approach is emerging which may address these issues – and offers premium brands a way to expose a broader range of consumers to their content.
A financial case
Last month, Financial Times launched a new lightweight offering called FT Edit. The app offers readers eight hand-picked stories every weekday for just £0.99 per month.
Though it has amassed 1.2 million subscribers to date, FT has traditionally attracted a certain kind of subscriber due to the high-end financial news it covers. A typical subscriber is of a higher income, with an interest in or working for the financial sector. Its most affordable digital package, which ranges from $40-$69 a month (£35-£55) would be a stretch for those who don’t need specialist financial coverage. If a consumer is after more general news, plenty of other organizations have more affordable subscriptions.
But increasingly, FT is gaining a following outside of its financial journalism. Part of that appears to be the result of making certain facets of its broader scope publicly available. Its coronavirus coverage was the first to be made freely available in March 2020. It currently has a page dedicated to free-to-read coverage of the Ukraine war “to keep everyone informed as events unfold”.
“We are known for financial news, and we’re incredibly strong at our core product. But we produce a wide breadth of news that matters, and I don’t think people really know that about the FT,” Assistant Editor Janine Gibson explained. “We weren’t really sure whether people wanted to read our free stuff more than anyone else’s, but it was very, very, very successful.”
Creating a more affordable product
The team began to see that there was a much wider appetite for their journalism. The conversations started to turn towards what a much lower-cost product would look like for the publisher. Their research about what people wanted came back with a core message: a simple product with a start and end point. Something more reflective, analytical, and deeply reported – but also expertly curated.
“There’s a different thing happening in the world of quality journalism. People understand that paying for quality journalism is vital, but they don’t necessarily have the resources or the appetite for the full, unexpurgated experience,” Gibson said.
Within a matter of months, FT Edit was conceived. Not only is the price point low, the limited offering provides a concise and digestible solution to too much news. The company says “the purpose of FT Edit is to provide an alternative to endless scrolling, allowing readers time to digest eight important stories selected for them each day. It will launch with the strapline: time well read.”
An audience-centric approach
The concern for many publishers considering this option is cannibalization of the existing subscriber audience. But Gibson sees the audience for FT Edit as adjacent to their core subscribers, not competing.
“This app isn’t here to solve a problem for a news organization,” she explained. “So many digital product launches over the last decade have come from a position of weakness, like ‘We need to replace this revenue gap’. This is, is there a wider audience out there at a lower price point for the FT? But we don’t need to offset the cost of what we already do.”
“The price point really reflects the commitment from the board and the chief executive to genuinely saying, ‘I would like to expose a much wider audience of people to some FT journalism.’”
Now, the app will go through some tweaks to find out how many stories each day works best. It is early days, but should the app get a good response in the UK, Gibson said a dedicated US version with content curated for a US audience would follow.
A bracing shot of news
FT is not the first publisher to experiment like this. The Economist’s Espresso app is the most well-known example of a separate, lower cost, lower quantity subscription offering. The recently updated app, launched eight years ago, was introduced as a daily digital briefing to complement the core magazine, with short pieces of news and analysis. It was marketed as a quick ‘shot’ of news to get readers ready for the day.
Espresso is included as part of The Economist’s full digital subscription. It is offered as a standalone app for $7.99 (£7.99) in the UK after a seven day free trial. Those who don’t choose to subscribe can still read one article a day.
The publisher has been working on an upgrade of the app over the past few months. The new version delivers Espresso stories in both written and audio form, alongside charts, facts and quotes each day. It also includes a ‘For You’ tab that lets the user sample four stories a week from the main Economist site, based on their interests.
“The new Espresso is aimed at readers who may not have the time or inclination for the more in-depth Economist experience,” a spokesperson told us. “We see it as introducing a new generation of readers to the Economist brand.”
“We imagine that, over time, some will migrate to an Economist subscription as they come to appreciate the role that our full journalism offerings can play in their lives.”
Is an app the perfect outreach product?
The question of affordable quality journalism is likely to become ever-more pressing as more publishers turn to reader revenue. From the Washington Post to Bloomberg – and even The Smith’s yet unlaunched Semafor – the market is saturated with publications targeting the global elite who barely blink at paying hundreds of dollars a year for news access.
The challenge for publishers looking to attract a wider audience to quality journalism is pricing for access. This is where paid products like apps or even newsletters can be a good way of building a relationship with readers without asking them to pay premium prices.
The longevity of Espresso and the initial success of FT Edit also demonstrate that audiences respond well to content with a start and a finish point. Aside from the obvious parallels to print newspapers, a carefully curated, high-quality set of stories is now seen as a refreshing antidote to the endless scrolling, misinformation, and frantic news cycle. In other words, for a tiny fraction of the cost, you get a tiny fraction of the news: just what you need to know, concisely offered and expertly crafted and delivered.
Now, limited is in demand. A small bundle of stories well-packaged for mobile could be the key for other publishers to unlocking their vast untapped audiences who haven’t yet opened their wallets.