SCMP’s programmatic lead opens up about life after the open marketplace
As part of The Drum’s Digital Advertising Deep Dive, we catch up with Joshua Campanella, programmatic lead at The South China Morning Post, to get an update on the publisher’s decision to leave the open programmatic marketplace.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) left the open programmatic marketplace (OMP) and stopped biddable media in the Asia Pacific in January 2021. Its plan was to demonstrate that combining the efficiencies of programmatic with the service layer, first-party data and persistent IDs of a quality publisher could provide significant value for all.
At that time, Ian Hocking, vice-president of digital at SCMP, said deals are the best way for an advertiser to access SCMP’s audiences – allowing greater transparency and significantly reducing potential ad fraud, while making it easier to manage brand safety, get the full reach of its audience at a higher position in the ad stack, access the publisher’s first-party data and deliver a better return on investment for its clients.
In addition, SCMP is aware that building a relationship with its audience is about to become a lot harder with the deprecation of the third-party cookie and mobile IDs, because it will be impossible to specifically target a user and then re-target them with a known frequency while moving them down the funnel. This is why working with a partner that can offer a persistent ID is crucial.
More than a year later, Joshua Campanella, programmatic lead at SCMP and a judge of The Drum Awards for Digital Advertising 2022, says the publisher still believes in the long-term opportunity, adding that it is “very satisfied” with where it is at this stage.
“Our approach to premium programmatic was to enable a transparent and direct value exchange, where we harness data and technology to deliver a better ad experience for our readers and a greater return on media investment for brand advertisers,” he explains.
“The concept of premium programmatic is still nascent in many markets across Asia Pacific, so educating and advocating its benefits is an ongoing process that we remain committed to.”
Campanella points out that, in deciding to remove Alibaba-owned SCMP’s inventory from the OMP, the publisher knowingly turned off a readily available long-tail source of revenue across the region. In doing so, it also knew that several long-tail buyers would not be the customer profile to convert to premium programmatic deals.
He says the key issue was not being distracted by the short-term opportunity cost from the OMP and maintaining a focus on investing in product development and market-facing activities to inform and educate customers and partners about the benefits of the change.
The reception from brand advertisers and their agency partners has been positive, claims Campanella, as SCMP initially saw a marked increase in data and technology-related discussions as partners seek to clarify opportunities, but the inquiries led to an increase in the number of requests for proposals as the value of the publisher’s data assets started to gain traction.
SCMP now expects more in-person interactions with advertisers and agencies as Covid-19 restrictions continue to lift.
“We have learned a great deal. It can be challenging to shut off all tech vendors across the OMP and [it] is not something that could be typically done swiftly. We were fortunate to have had a well-optimized and manageable tech stack in place, which made the transition less complex for a publisher of our scale.
“We also received a lot of support for our decision not only from brand advertisers and agency partners, but also from other publishers who wanted insights for their programmatic journey.”
SCMP believes it is slightly premature to discuss specific long-term gains, primarily because the publisher is still very much on its first strategic horizon. Plus, there are still many variables at play within the industry that will inevitably impact its future direction, such as consolidation, cookie deprecation and identity resolution, to name a few.
However, what is paying off and is a cause for long-term optimism is SCMP’s continued ability to build more meaningful relationships with brand advertisers and their agency partners, says Campanella.
“We are doing this because of our ability to craft great ideas, harness data and present insights about the readers we serve. We have made big improvements in this area and will continue to do so throughout the next 24 months.
“For publishers, it has never been more important than now to responsibly safeguard your data while harnessing it to create value for readers. If you focus on the needs of readers, you can build scale – which is promising.”
Campanella adds that programmatic media and technology are still fragmented and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, but the potential of distributed ledger technology to authenticate audiences and establish data provenance for digital advertising is inevitable.
“This is an area that we will continue to better understand and utilize to innovate our offerings.”