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Inside Immediate Media’s data strategy: ‘Stop eating unsustainable food, grow your own’


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

October 14, 2020 | 6 min read

With the demise of third-party cookies at the hand of Google and regulations like GDPR and CCPA still to show their teeth, publishers are keen to monetise their audiences directly. Matthew Rance, head of commercial data at Immediate Media, explained how it built its own first-party data ad business.

Why Immediate Media dumped cookies: ‘Stop eating unsustainable food and grow your own’

The team at Immediate, which has built a first-party data ad business.

Immediate Media, publisher of Top Gear magazine, BBC Good Food and Radio Times has built top brands around clearly defined niches with easy-to-define audiences. Over the last few years, it has been leaning into the niche, instead of chasing scale for scale’s sake.

In 2017, it partnered with Permutive to gain a better understanding of its audience in the face of the adblocking threat and issues caused by browsers blocking third-party cookies. Right now browsers obscure around (48%) of publishers’ audience from advertisers – but if market-leader Google makes good on its promise to trounce third-party tracking tech, more than 90% of the web could become anonymous to advertisers.

In anticipation, Permutive has been logging visitors to Immediate Media sites using edge computing, meaning very little identifiable information should leave the device. It claims this is more efficient, effective and privacy compliant than running this information through the cloud. Furthermore, it claims that publishers can see between 300% to 900% more audience and around 400% more “data-driven advertising revenue”.

By the end of 2019, Immediate had delivered more than 900 audience campaigns and 450m impressions using the DMP.

But this path wasn't always clear. Rance says: “There was actually no conscious end goal of eradicating our use of third-party data for targeting, but an awareness that we relied on it far too heavily in the past. In a sense, the ditching of third party data was a beneficial by-product of us investing time and resource into our own first party data.”

With Permutive’s help, it built a host of products and insights around its own audience and weaned itself off “unsustainable food”.

Rance added: “We decided to start growing and eating our own food. It took a lot of time. We were relying less on food that is damaging the planet – it probably won’t be around forever [third party data]. We went from growing a few vegetables in our garden to becoming entirely self-sufficient with no reliance on supermarket products. Now, our food is far healthier, we know exactly where it comes from, and how it was comprised (no pesticides or insecticides). We can guarantee its quality.”

Many publishers will make similar guarantees, but for Rance, the challenge is in packaging data and insights that keep the client booking.

“If you look specifically at the proportion of revenue we generate where data is being targeted, we’ve seen huge growth in programmatic guaranteed where a programmatic client is placing a lot of importance on using our data to deliver their KPIs and of course willing to pay a premium (and guaranteed) amount for this.”

From these data segments and the performance of each campaign, Immediate looks to “provide genuinely actionable insight to our clients that don’t just arouse mild interest or curiosity but facilitate rebookings”.

But this approach is not for everyone. “Simply saying ‘you should come and work with us directly because we’ve got loads of first-party data’ won’t be enough. Many clients won’t want or even be able to work with us in the traditional direct sense where the money is committed upfront or where we run it as a publisher managed service.

”What about clients who only run activity on the open exchange? Or those that already have a wealth of first-party proprietary data that they want to use in the absence of third party identity?”

Although there are concerns around measurement, attribution and supplementary approaches to attract more spend, in the space of a few years Immediate is now in a position where it no longer under-delivers campaigns.

“We’d sometimes underdeliver campaigns by 50%, relying often on third party data. In the earlier stages of our investment in Permutive, we went from having around knowing 25% of our users to around 95%. Segment sizes sometimes increased by 300% and the number of data points we collected increased by 500%.” CPMs have been steadily rising for three years.

But where does this leave the marketer that wants to deliver across multiple domains or walled gardens? The jury is still out on how these audiences and insights can be stitched together, although through the likes of Project Ozone, publishes are showing a willingness to scale up audience sizes and segment types to attract more spend.

Market turbulence has at least made publishers much better at “keeping a closer eye of the more technical conversations taking place via mediums such as W3C and Google’s Privacy sandbox… we ought to be not only keeping a close eye on these things but actively help shape them,“ concludes Rance.

Aarti Suri, senior customer success manager at Permutive, admits that there are many more solutions being pieced together by industry bodies and ad tech vendors.

“A lot of these solutions are still based on third-party cookies or probabilistic matching. This approach simply patches up the solution but does not provide the answer. If an ID solution does not have a relationship with the user then it is likely not to succeed moving forward.”

She sees two distinct customer segments emerging from the decay of third-party cookies – authenticated and anonymous users.

The authenticated web sees users who are logged in or have a common identifier, and then there are users that will be unknown to the buyer, but not the publisher.

“In this scenario, the only entity that has the ability to understand the user is the publisher through first-party data – they hold the relationship with the user and the legal and technical ability to understand them.”

The Drum has also explored how Stylist and the Financial Times have moved away from third-party data.

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