Why the future of our industry points to premium

Why the future of our industry points to premium
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The premium web’s future depends on it being defined, measurable and available in industry measurement tools, warns the CEO of Ozone.

This summer Ozone celebrates our fifth anniversary, a milestone that prompted me to reflect on our journey to date. In early 2018, we pondered whether a silver bullet existed at a market level — industry policy, privacy regulation, tech vendor changes, buyer or publisher behaviours — that would support Ozone’s growth.

The answer was no. There is no silver bullet to structural change, otherwise it would have been fired many years ago.

Instead, we found change was driven by the collective actions — and at times, inaction — of all of the above.

Perhaps this is unsurprising. After all, our publisher alliance was born from collaboration around a shared mission, imagining a world where brands could easily reach at scale, highly attentive digital audiences engaged in reading publisher editorial. We envisaged a future where brands’ digital investment helped employ more journalists and gave these same publishers greater control over their ad business — the premium web, as we call it today.

As media leaders (no pun intended), we have a collective responsibility to grow and maintain a sustainable media ecosystem. It’s our ownership of that responsibility that will secure a sustainable future for the premium web — those reader-first websites that engage, educate and entertain consumers across the country.

We must elevate the premium web

The Advertising Association and WARC classify online display as a near £12bn market, accounting for more than a third of total UK advertising expenditure. The IAB and PwC separate their digital display definition into clear subsets: social display, retail media and an ‘everything else’ bucket.

Premium publishing does not belong in an ‘everything else’ bucket.

Of course I would say that — this narrative reflects our mission to power this space of the internet for the benefit of brands and publishers. If you’re unconvinced — and Chris Ladd, former head of media at Nationwide, can’t persuade you —  let’s look further at two reasons why you should be.

>> Mixed Media Modelling will change the world

The world is changing fast. AI and data scientists are taking over everything. Who knows what that means for the rest of us, but when it comes to media planning, MMM will be the future. Media channel investment decisions and predicting the return coming out the other side, will be — and for some, already is — driven by algorithms.

The quality of output from these models will only ever be as good as the data that fuels them. A conundrum for digital advertising, as its arrival coincides with many of those digital ad metric inputs disappearing with the third-party cookie. If your only remaining inputs come from a data mass called ‘online’ — even with social and retail split out — how can you really understand what’s driving brand outcomes? 

The premium web is distinct from the unregulated long-tail of the internet, thanks to the reader engagement driven from editorial and journalistic expertise. Countless industry studies have proven that campaigns seen on premium websites deliver better brand results, particularly for awareness and consideration. As consumers don’t look at channels in silos, we wholeheartedly believe this upper funnel impact also fuels results elsewhere. As MMM matures the impact from the premium web will become rich planning currency — for that to happen it must be clearly defined and measurable.

>> Marketers expect to be on the premium web

I’ve never had a conversation with any marketer about their online spend who immediately mentions [insert long list of nameless websites], or made-for-advertising domains. They think of their ads appearing on The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Mirror or The Sun – creators of professionally produced content that stands up to scrutiny, where the provenance of the content is known and editorial brand safety is built in.

Talking to the same CMOs, buying the premium web — programmatically and at scale — is rarely easy. Open programmatic platforms (demand-side platforms) are designed to be agnostic, valuing a mid-page unit (MPU) on The Guardian as the same as an MPU on a Nepalese calendar website. Just imagine an advertiser’s anger if, after buying a 96-sheet on London’s Cromwell Road, they discover it was placed on another billboard under a grotty bridge — the value does not compare.

Perhaps it’s all best summed up by Bob Hoffman, author and former agency CEO, who reflects on the first ISBA and PwC report into programmatic transparency in his book Adscam. With over 80% of sites where ads ran deemed as “not premium”, Bob said: “Not premium is a nice British way of saying crap.”

The roadmap for the premium web

The premium web already exists, but its future depends on it being defined, being measurable and being available in industry measurement tools and MMM platforms. This needs both publisher and buyer engagement.

Publishers need to articulate clearly what sets premium apart from the open web and to share data with buyers and their MMM platforms. Buyers need to assign the right value to premium rather than valuing it akin to the open web.

The premium web will also need to feel more premium. This means a better user experience, less ad clutter, less clickbait, a privacy-first approach to use of reader data and greater levels of control and transparency for both advertisers and publishers. Our collective responsibility will create a premium web that benefits all.

Damon Reeve is CEO of Ozone, the digital platform and online advertising sales house for publishers.


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