Opinion: the fight for quality content must continue

EMarketer’s report showing that the duopoly’s dominance of the digital ad market is still rising is a blow to online publishers. With Google and Facebook taking an ever-greater portion of ad revenues – expected to reach over 63% in the UK this year – there’s precious little left in the pot for everyone else to share.   

In her recent Review for the UK Government, Dame Frances Cairncross issues a rallying cry for the digital industry to level the playing field and support quality editorial. Focussing on journalism and the future of the press – specifically on public interest news – she recommends new codes of conduct to rebalance the relationship between publishers and online platforms. She also suggests regulators investigate the online advertising market to ensure the unbalanced relationship between publishers and online platforms does not threaten the viability of publishers’ businesses.

Cairncross believes the future of a healthy democracy depends on investigative journalism and public interest news. She suggests journalism can have a sustainable future if publications delivering quality, in-depth editorial can compete for ad revenues with the major content aggregation platforms.

But investing ad budgets with premium publications isn’t just a moral responsibility to keep journalism afloat; it also benefits brands commercially. When consumers are fully immersed in high quality content – news-based or otherwise – they are more mentally open to engaging with associated ad messaging. This is not necessarily the case when passively skimming pushed content on social networks or news feeds.

AOP research reveals ads viewed in a premium context create almost 30% higher engagement than ads on social media. They are also viewed for longer and generate greater levels of memory encoding on both the left and right sides of the brain. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, ads appearing alongside premium content elicit stronger, more positive emotional responses.

As most purchase decisions are made with the emotional part of the brain rather than the rational – according to Byron Sharp – advertising that is aligned with the consumers’ in-the-moment mindset can be extremely effective. Different types of content inspire different moods in readers or viewers. So, if advertisers can find quality content that creates a mindset that works with their message, they will also find truly receptive audiences. Mood is fleeting but it has a powerful impact on engagement.

Many advertisers recognise the value of quality editorial and the immersive ad environments it provides. However, ISBA’s response to the Cairncross Review highlights advertisers currently “have little choice but to spend with one or other of the major platforms.” This is largely because those platforms have an apparently unique combination of in-depth targeting data and vast reach.

To support quality content, the ad tech ecosystem needs new commercial models; models that level the playing field by focusing on delivering a quality of engagement, but still delivering the necessary scale.

Digital ad targeting currently works by assuming future intent based on historical data around users’ content consumption or purchasing behaviour. This is the valuable data held by online platforms and it allows users to be grouped into fixed targeting segments based on past actions. But this strategy means consumers often end up being bombarded with ads for products and services they already have, are no longer interested in, or just aren’t in the right mindset to buy.     

Instead, the ad tech ecosystem could shift towards “in-the-moment” contextually led targeting, and reducing reliance on outdated audience segments. This approach enables the modelling of consumer interests in real time, reaching audiences at the moment they are most receptive to ad messaging. If advertisers can see what content themes and categories are generating active in-the-moment engagement, and then find similar pages across the web, they can achieve massive scale equal to that of the major platforms. Gaining a richer understanding of contextual engagement will naturally favour quality in-depth editorial that fully immerses the reader, over the snippets of information and clickbait frequently found on content-aggregation platforms.

The duopoly’s grip on ad revenues may be strengthening for now but the rules of engagement are changing. It is in the interest of all industry practitioners to work together to create new commercial models that support the creation and distribution of high-quality online content. By reducing reliance on historical data and looking to content-led, in-the-moment,  targeting to maximise reach, the ad tech ecosystem can work within the framework of Cairncross and continue the fight for quality content for the benefit of everyone.

This article originally appeared in What’s New In Publishing

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