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How the FT prepared for a world without third-party cookies


By Awards Analyst, writer

August 11, 2020 | 6 min read

Permutive won the 'Best Sell Side Innovation’ category at The Drum Digital Advertising Awards 2020 for its collaboration with The Financial Times. Here, the team behind the entry reveal the challenges faced and strategies used to deliver this successful project.

The challenge

The Financial Times is one of the world’s leading news organisations, recognised internationally for its authority, integrity and accuracy. It topped a million subscribers in 2019 (some 75% of them digital), a year ahead of schedule – and has hefty ambitions moving forward. Operating a split revenue model, the FT does not rely on subscriber revenues alone: it also includes advertising with branded content playing a larger role in delivering that advertising revenue.

However, with the introduction of privacy-focused laws such as GDPR and browser changes, including Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox anti-tracking measures, the FT knew it needed to keep ahead of changes without losing the ability to target its audiences.

Knowing that Google could also clamp down on cookies (it has since announced that third party cookies will be phased out by 2022), the FT needed to change the way it operated - and fast. Chrome accounted for just under half of the FT’s impressions in 2018-19, so if it continued to rely on third party cookies, its revenue would have taken a big hit. Google’s own figures suggest that without third-party cookies, publisher revenues would drop an average 52% on its platform. needed a real-time and first-party cookie solution to unlock its valuable audiences and provide clients the scale they demanded.

The strategy

The FT turned to Permutive to combat the following challenges:

Privacy and regulation - third-party data is becoming increasingly redundant as laws and browser changes take effect. FT was also looking for more efficient methods in responding to GDPR requests.

Browser changes - Apple’s ITP was the trigger for the FT team to prepare for a cookie-less world. For every new ITP release Permutive estimates that publishers experience up to a 60% drop in programmatic revenue on the browser.

Reporting was time consuming - The reporting and analysis on its legacy DMP was too manual, making it time consuming and less effective at informing decision-making.

Workarounds were not working - FT found that most vendor alternatives were not publisher-driven; they were also focused on finding workarounds to maintain third-party cookies and continue working. These were quickly being eliminated by browser updates.

Audience segmentation - The FT knew that its clients wanted to know more about their audiences: from the segment they were targeting to how a campaign performed on site, as well as what learnings they could take into the next campaign.

The solution

All segments from the FT’s existing DMP were recreated in Permutive and since Permutive does not rely on third-party cookies, the FT can collect, analyse and activate its entire audience across all devices and browsers. Additionally, Permutive is built on edge computing, unlike traditional DMPs built in the cloud. This means that data is processed on the user’s device and isn’t sent back-and-forth to cloud servers.

All of FT’s segments were historically built using frequency and recency, but with Permutive it is now starting to build out segments based on behaviour on site such as total engagement time and, potentially, scroll depth. This will help improve CTR within campaigns and is a focus for 2020. That additional layer is also helping its sales team to build a stronger narrative to take to market.

The FT can now target users in milliseconds to serve relevant audience-targeted advertising and deliver more information to clients on its users and campaign performance, whilst also being more secure as data doesn’t leave the device mitigating against data leaks and providing GDPR-compliance.

The results

The project increased scale, revenue and privacy compliance for FT. Adopting Permutive helped from a privacy perspective as the previous DMP utilised a network-wide domain meaning audience behaviours could be collated across any publisher. Utilising the domain removed any risk of data being pooled.

Permutive allows FT to target users based on engagement, and learn more about its readers and how they interact with, specifically, its marketing. It has added another weapon to the FT’s commercial arsenal. Whereas before it had one or two different data sources it can now unlock a whole other layer in terms of proving who its audience is, demonstrating certain interests that are relevant to the client outside of demographic information.

The FT makes the most of the analytics feature within Permutive, having previously been reliant on manually inputting data into excel sheets to draw information on audience segments. It can now can easily segment users at a granular level using all of the information it is collecting about on-site behaviour. For segmentation and analysis, it can also look back at all historical data, with none of the previous limits. This builds a much more insightful picture of all FT users, making it easy to package audiences for advertisers.

“We looked at other vendors but Permutive stood out because it was a publisher-focused, real-time DMP. It was the right time to be talking about a first-party data system, and once we could see how the technology works on device, rather than in the cloud, it made a lot of sense. We’re seeing improvements in scale of inventory as well as revenue, and campaign performance is seeing an uplift, too. It’s all helping our sales teams build a much stronger narrative to go to market with.” - Paris Luc, digital targeting manager, the Financial Times

This project was highly commended at The Drum Digital Advertising Awards 2020. To find out which Drum Awards are currently open for entries, click here.

The Drum Awards Financial Times Technology

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The Financial Times is one of the world’s leading news organisations, recognised internationally for its authority, integrity and accuracy. It is part of Nikkei...

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