Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Invest for a better digital future

By Jacque Chadwick, Commercial Trading Director at Ozone

You wait ages for one, and then three come along at once”. Among all of the new year forecasting, three recent news stories have somewhat converged to create a clear case for investing in quality, audience-first digital channels.

Too much investment in the internet’s long tail

The first to pique our interest was the release of the latest study into programmatic transparency from ISBA, PwC and AOP. In May 2020 part one left both advertisers and publishers scrutinising their supply chains – 15% ‘missing delta’, only 51% of advertiser spend reaching publishers, and the average campaign running across 40k+ websites.

The great news is part two highlights many improvements – you can read more here. Generally, we’ve seen the number of relationships publishers and brands have with ad-tech intermediaries reduced, which in turn has positively impacted on driving efficiencies and reducing both data leakage and complexity. However, with these results focused on the biggest brands and publishers, they also hide real challenges with programmatic across the open web.

The report indicates brands could use in the region of 500-1000 of the top websites to reach 90%+ of the population, yet many campaigns are delivered across site lists in the many multiples of that. Significant amounts of media investment still fund those long-tail, ‘made for advertising’ websites, rather than sites developed with an audience-first mindset. With advertisers pledging to invest more in trusted, brand safe, quality environments, the report highlights the vast majority of digital budgets are still spent to the contrary.

Not enough investment in digital that delivers

The latest Bellwether Report and the AA WARC Advertising Expenditure Report both point to a cautious sense of optimism in the advertising sector. Despite high inflation, the rising cost of living and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, nine successive quarters of ad spend growth is a hopeful sign of an industry navigating choppy times. The strong growth in video and display formats as evidenced by the Bellwether Report reflects a trajectory we’ve seen within our business.

Thanks to the IAB, Newsworks, Magnetic et al, many studies have proven premium publisher websites deliver better campaign results compared to task-based sites and the long-tail of the open web. Therefore, one might expect online news and magazine brands to forecast stronger growth than online display as a whole – yet this is not the case. While the online display category is likely buoyed by spending in VOD and social, the 2023 outlook suggests even more budget being deployed in the internet’s long-tail.

A better investment for the future

The third and final piece of this jigsaw is the latest news from the Advertising Association. Announced at January’s 2023 LEAD conference, the trade body’s new strategy puts trusted, inclusive and sustainable advertising at the heart of their mission. We believe the only way to deliver this aim will be to consciously put trusted, inclusive and sustainable media channels back at the centre of plans.

There are some easy ways for brands to start delivering on this strategy straight away. Firstly, prioritise advertising in media channels that put their reader, viewer or listener first. These outlets invest heavily in building trusted relationships with their audiences and – as the Mirror’s Editor-in-Chief, Alison Phillips, explained recently– it is a precious emotion that is undervalued at your peril.

When it comes to sustainability there are many solutions being marketed as the answer for delivering greener digital campaigns. While these might do a job for advertising across the open web, the easiest path to sustainability is to work more directly with publishers, or through publisher-built platforms like our own. We believe prioritising emission reduction over offsetting is key to sustainability growth – our latest figures show engineering efforts have halved our platform’s C02 per billion impressions.

Sustainability and inclusivity are intrinsically linked. At the heart of Ozone’s inception was the need to create a more sustainable future for journalism, as well as the wider digital advertising ecosystem. And this is most needed for those titles representing the most diverse, and often marginalised, communities across the UK. Through our recent work with Asian Media Group, we have built a framework to help similar community publishers create greater, sustainable value from programmatic. Rooted in premium tech foundations, not just short-term revenue allocations, these principles are now being applied to other publisher relationships. Along with challenging logistical roadblocks, such as keyword blocking of words like ‘lesbian’ and ‘trans’, our work is focused on securing a sustainable, advertising-led future for diverse publishers.

As we make our way through what is likely to be another eventful year in the world of digital advertising, it’s reassuring and exciting to see the Advertising Association advocating for positive change. Responsible investment is sure to reap rewards.