Changes to online privacy rules are affecting how publishers make money serving internet ads, and when companies like Apple restrict certain types of tracking, it cuts into their ad revenue, according to executives from Condé Nast and The Wall Street Journal, who spoke at AdAge’s Next: Publishing forum in New York City.
Craig Kostelic, Condé Nast’s chief business officer, head of U.S. advertising revenue and global video sales, and Josh Stinchcomb, global chief revenue officer of The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s Group, discussed the changing privacy landscape and how it impacts digital advertising. Apple has been leading the way to prevent online tracking on its mobile devices and Safari web browser, introducing ways for consumers to hide their online activity—activity that has typically been a source of data for marketers to target ads.
There has been an ongoing debate in the advertising community about just how much Apple’s changes, and those of other platforms, too, could harm the businesses that rely on highly targeted digital ads, like publishers. For instance, Google has been pressured to implement similar anti-tracking measures in its Chrome browser, providing tools that would give people more control over how websites collect “cookies”—which are the trackers that collect online data about consumers when they visit websites. Google has warned that going too aggressively after standard practices in online advertising could harm publishers, claiming the lack of data with devalue ads.
Here’s what Kostelic and Stinchcomb had to say about the privacy measures and how publishers are evolving:
Data and targeting affects pricing
Both executives say that they see a difference in the value of ads, depending on whether a reader comes to sites through Apple or Google browsers. Visitors through Apple browser, where cookie tracking is more limited, lead to cheaper ads.
“Obviously, the more that you understand who somebody is and what actions they're taking and an ability to retarget them,” Kostelic says, “the higher the price point that they're willing to pay from a supply standpoint. And without that information the less they're willing to pay.”
The publishers are able to see the relative value of a Google browser versus an Apple one when the ads are being served in open ad auctions. Not all of the inventory is sold that way, because premium publishers often have direct relationships with the advertisers to set prices, rather than send the ad space to the real-time programmatic auctions. But when they do, “We are seeing significantly lower eCPMs [effective cost per thousand ads],” Stinchcomb says. “So, I think that's a sort of early look at sort of diminished value of inventory when you start to take out certain targeting capabilities.”
Contextual advertising advances
Publishers are moving more toward contextual advertising, which is the way ads used to be served online—targeted to the content on the website and not to the individual visitor. However, contextual advertising is becoming more advanced.
“You're seeing a lot of publishers, I think smartly sort of beef up their contextual targeting capabilities. You know, we certainly are doing that,” Stinchcomb says. “I think contextual targeting, which I guess is kind of where the web started, is going to come somewhat back into vogue and be part of the mix of solutions.”
Kostelic says that the move to contextual advertising needs to include higher prices, too. The publishers should charge a premium for providing contextual data that helps advertisers understand the quality of the ad inventory. “I think publishers will start to bring more contextual data into the programmatic offering,” Kostelic says.
Apple News ad limits
Condé Nast and The Wall Street Journal are used to working with the platforms to share their publications to users on properties like Apple News and Facebook News. Apple News tests the limits of advertising to an app that his strict privacy controls.
Stinchcomb says the lack of data is a hindrance to publishers generating revenue on Apple News. “There's not a lot of demand there,” Stinchcomb says. “There's not a lot of value being created because they're so limiting in what you can do with data.”
Ready for privacy laws
The publishers are also preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act, coming next year. The law is similar to the General Data Protection Regulation from the EU, which internet users might recognize from all the notices they see while visiting websites. The EU regulation prompted all websites to start displaying their cookie policies.
Stinchcomb and Kostelic say that the California rules could make it even harder to get people to consent to cookies, because the wording publishers have to use is stronger than what people see in Europe.
Instead of simply asking “are you OK with cookies,” the California law appears to require a notice about selling that data.
“I mean, CCPA [California privacy act] right now, there's going to be a giant ‘do not sell my data,’” Stinchcomb says. “Like that type of messaging, I think it's probably going to elicit a much stronger response than what we see in GDPR.”