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How contextual targeting puts publishers back in control

Publishers and advertisers have an opportunity to work together

With the demise of the third-party cookie fast approaching, publishers have a unique opportunity to tap into contextual advertising to improve campaign performance and monetization, writes DoubleVerify’s senior vice-president of publisher sales and client services Mimi Wotring.

Now that the digital ad industry has had to imagine a world where third-party cookies are much more scarce, it’s become clear that the way the ecosystem had come to rely on this data was overemphasized. Use of third-party cookies took direct control away from both publishers and marketers, in terms of monetization and campaign performance alike.

It’s hard to say how much potential ad revenue publishers might have missed over the years as a result. Premium publishers know they have high-quality content and engaged audiences, which should be monetized accordingly. But voluminous third-party data made it tempting for marketers to rely on the premise that they could reach the same consumers elsewhere on the web at lower CPMs.

However, we’re entering a new era. Data privacy regulations are on the rise, including the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), Brazil’s General Personal Data Protection Law (LGPD) and a growing number of privacy bills under consideration in various US states. The third-party data model will need to be revisited.

Winning back spend from walled garden advertising

Meanwhile, walled gardens have eaten up more and more market share, with spend on the open web decreasing by the billions while digital ad spend increases overall. Walled gardens promise marketers a safer bet, reduced brand safety concerns and less wasted spend on irrelevant placements.

While most publishers don’t have the same scale as Facebook or Google, they provide significant value. Publishers create and own their content, and as such, they manage and can verify their own users’ first-party data, and can often best identify the data that will provide advertisers with the most valuable insights. Publishers can leverage their unique understanding of content to convert marketers to this new model.

By combining article insights with quality metrics and first-party data, publishers can promise marketers relevancy, accuracy and personalization. Unreliable third-party data has created substantial waste for the buy side. In a Forrester study, 35% of marketers said bad data contributed to wasted spend, and 35% said it contributed to inaccurate targeting. Contextual and first-party data allows marketers to trust the content and the audience – a great advantage for publishers and their CPMs.

Contextual clears paths in the programmatic market

By reducing reliance on intermediaries, contextual can also help clean up the supply chain and foster stronger, closer relationships with advertisers. Less noise in programmatic helps publishers identify their best advertisers, and vice versa, which leads to valuable direct relationships, rather than forcing publishers to rely on tech partners for demand.

And for the marketer, contextual takes away brand safety headaches. Contextual data allows marketers to avoid content and environments that are unsuitable for their brands, and to target their campaigns to content categories and topics that support the brand’s image. To the user, that close alignment of ads and page content feels relevant and authentic and makes them more willing to purchase: 44% of consumers say they’ve tried a new brand because it was advertised next to relevant content.

Keys to unlocking the future of identity

Contextual targeting itself has the power to evolve. In a way, contextual isn’t just about contextual insights anymore. Publishers and advertisers have an opportunity to work together and learn how to combine the right contextual insights with the right first-party data to meet their shared goals. Those insights will make it easier for publishers to sell inventory that programmatic players had a harder time selling simply due to the lack of good data on user behavior over time.

From that point, publishers can connect contextual data with first-party identifiers – from, for instance, the CRM or user email addresses – to create lookalike audience segments in order to answer the question of how marketers can prospect the web. Again, when that’s a task the publisher can best manage, the publisher has control over monetization.

It’s been a long time coming, but publishers now have the opportunity to define and direct how digital media is monetized. In a digital ecosystem full of unknowns, publishers know their content and audiences. That’s what brands need the most today.

Mimi Wotring is senior vice-president of publisher sales and client services at DoubleVerify.

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