Washington Post investing heavily in first-party solutions for the post-cookie world

Last week, an Insider event headlined How advertisers can navigate the death of third-party cookies looked at just that, assembling speakers from the media, tech, agency, and advertising sectors. Amongst them was The Washington Post’s VP of Commercial Technology, Jarrod Dicker, who said that the company was “building products that allow marketers to be able to reach audiences in a very privacy-first way through context and consumption”.

The cookie is about to… be discontinued by Google, and with increased regulation around user tracking by way of the likes of the California Consumer Privacy Act and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), not to mention Apple’s recent decision to bake greater privacy into its operating system, advertisers will soon need to find new ways to target consumers online. 

The debate around whether this brings good news or bad for publishers rumbles on. We know that cookie or no, Google itself is unlikely to go hungry for digital ad-dollars as it looks to roll out its catchily-titled Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) replacement. But good or bad, the transition marks a serious one in the advertising world, because as Insider states, “At stake is the US$332.84 billion that eMarketer expected marketers to spend on digital advertising in 2020.”

For many though this change represents an opportunity. A chance to return to more transparent, less intrusive, first-party marketing techniques like sales data and email addresses. And as Dicker said on the Insider panel last week, the Post is investing heavily in these areas: 

We’re building products that allow marketers to be able to reach audiences in a very privacy-first way through context and consumption. We’re building new functions to be able to relay data back to marketers.

Jarrod Dicker, VP of Commercial Technology, The Washington Post

“We’re seeing this as an opportunity,” said Dicker. “That is both in terms of the investments we’re making on the Post and also how we represent all of our Zeus partners, which is now at 200+ publishers. And this isn’t necessarily an apples to apples comparison, but I like to draw the analogy of what we were confronted with back in 2010, when publishers had a lot of direct relationships with advertisers from the creative all the way down to the targeting, to literally how campaigns were bought.”   

“At that time, publishers really started to see momentum in more of the open space and decided to opt into the scale game. Of course, depending on which publisher perspective you’re speaking from, you can deem whether or not that was a good decision… But net-net that moment and that choice was basically a forfeiture of that relationship. Because it kindof moves the client-publisher relationship from the content and the context to the audience. And of course, in that sort of instance that sort of audience can be targeted and found cheaper elsewhere, rather than going directly to a publisher. So we really see this as an opportunity to bring that relationship back.” 

For the commercial technology lead, publishers remain well placed to take advantage of the return to a cookieless environment.

“We’ve seen trends over the past few years where [the client-publisher] relationship has been growing: more focussed on direct, more focus on unique products even beyond branded content, but how we target, how we understand consumption. Publishers have a unique advantage in this next phase because consumption data is something that we’ve always deeply understood – we know what type of content users prefer, how they navigate through sites, and all of this can be worked out without ever having to know a user’s identity. 

“So we’re investing very heavily in that. We’re building products that allow marketers to be able to reach audiences in a very privacy-first way through context and consumption. We’re building new functions to be able to relay data back to marketers. And the unique angle I’d say we have is that we treat The Washington Post as a kind of beta lab for experimentation. Because we’re trying to prove that it works and we want to be able to put hard data against that to show what does.” 

Also on the panel, hosted by Senior Reporter Lauren Johnson, were: 

  • Michelle Hulst, Chief Operating Officer at The Trade Desk
  • Ellie Bamford, VP & Head of Media at R/GA
  • Lung Huang, Head of Growth Solutions at Mars Petcare

And the latter had this to say from an advertiser’s perspective: 

“I think as advertisers, we’ve kindof been building towards this,” said Huang. “Looking back, it really started with people based marketing, and that fundamentally isn’t going to change. But what is going to change is the anonymous and non-transparent way in which consumers are begin tracked. And I think this is one of those moments where we’re going to evolve.”

“As for the upcoming Apple changes I looked it up, the iPhone came out in 2007, so this is a 14 year industry of mobile marketing! I think we tend to forget this and so for many of us on the advertising side I think that we just have to be a participant. There’s no longer a case for us just sitting back and letting one company solve all of our needs. We’re going to really have to be an active participant around the consumer, and our customer’s journey.” 

You can watch the session in full here

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