A new and more demanding role awaits publishers, who see multiple opportunities opening up for them, if they manage to handle efficiently the challenges that transform the entire digital ecosystem.

What makes high-quality inventory stand out? “The perfect balance between being result-driven and brand-safe”. This is what Maylis Chevalier, Director of Innovation and Digital Product of Vocento Group, told Marketing Week, in the margins of the Brand Safety Conference, organized by Boussias. Presenting the success story of the Spanish group, she shares insights and tips for effective and efficient strategies that turn the challenges of the new digital reality into opportunities for publishers and brands.

What are the characteristics of high-quality inventory? Does it really reflect upon brand performance?

Even if quality is relative and varies depending on the advertiser´s objectives, I would boil down high-quality inventory to the perfect balance between being result-driven and brand-safe, which directly reflects on brand performance. I was reading in a neuroscience study of the UK Association of Online Publishing that it´s not enough to find the right audience, people need to see ads in an environment that is conducive to memory encoding if we are to build brands longer term and maximise effectiveness. Premium editorial and premium content sites provide that highly valuable context.

In other words, any platform, especially search or social networks, might help you target your audience due to their data power, but do not guarantee the highest quality in inventory compared to a publisher with curated content and high-quality journalism standards. The good news is that publishers are catching up with data and are more and more able to enrich their inventory with qualitative data to enable a better performance, like platforms do.

I would sum up the characteristics of high-quality inventory with first of all viewability, which is key for CTR, video views etc., premium context and high-quality content, data, performance and brand safety.

What can publishers do in order to become more efficient and attractive to advertisers?

Attractiveness mostly results from efficiency which comes from providing the expected results to advertisers. As I said in my presentation at the Brand Safety Conference, this is not always an easy equation when advertisers only link efficiency with price and not KPIs. In Vocento, we worked hard to link efficiency with high-quality inventory and high-quality customer service.

On one side we reduced the total number of ad placements in all our sites by keeping only the best performing ones; we increased their viewability by applying a selective lazy load, and last but not least we powered our sites with a digital ad verification technology as an additional quality label for advertisers. All these efforts can´t be done if our USP is only based on price.

On the other side, we trained our sales team and turned them into a consulting team able to understand advertisers’ needs and objectives in order to offer the best suitable solutions in terms of formats, segmentation, media brands etc. In a word, our attractiveness results from providing efficiency in reaching the KPIs of our advertisers at the best suitable price and with a tailor made service.

What challenges do brand safety initiatives create for publishers and how can they handle them?

As I described above, brand safety initiatives require an investment for publishers and the challenge is to translate this investment into performance for advertisers in terms of KPIs. For Vocento, it took one year and a half to find the right formula between offering the best value for money in terms of quality and improving its own profitability. And we keep improving this formula.

Our latest figures are the best way to show how the Spanish market rewards our efforts. Based on the benchmark of Google of Q1 2021, we reached 68% viewability vs. 55% market average, above the fold we even reached 78%. Our eCPM (impressions) is more than twice as big as the market average and we are especially strong in open bidding, open auction and first look and this cross-device.

Another challenge are the current limitations of the available ad-verification technologies in the market and the trend of advertisers to rather use keywords instead of categories to position their campaigns on our pages. In such cases, they run the risk of blocking content that is perfectly suitable for them. For example, in our case some history pages about Napoleon in ABC ended up being blocked for using war terms which the ad-verification technology misinterpreted. The result is a loss of qualitative ad-impressions for the advertiser, a loss of revenue for the publisher and an extra cost for both of them.

Both the pandemic and the changes regarding the protection of privacy are gradually setting a different stage for the entire supply chain in digital advertising. What does this look like and what opportunities does it hold for publishers?

On one side, a stricter ad environment might be problematic for advertisers and publishers. On the other side, moving to higher data protection, like by reducing the amount of cross-website tracking on the web, might be an opportunity to reset the advertising ecosystem and boost publishers to strengthen their own data powered environments. This opportunity depends on how rules and technology are set in the future.

If we look at the new strategic moves platforms like Google have been working on with the solution of FLoC, we should be careful. Indeed such a technology might reinforce the power of the platforms and put at risk data privacy. That’s the reason why most browsers seem to reject this new proposal. Beside that, not all publishers have the data and financial power to only work with first-party or with enough independence like the New York Times do. So let’s see how this all develops as it is still in the making.

What are the main trends/factors that, from your point of view, will determine the next day in brand safety?

Considering the boost in digital consumption Covid 19 provoked and the ever changing environment of the digital ad ecosystem, brand safety is and will be more important than ever. I would focus on two strategic aspects for the future: a stronger contextualization and a higher personalization in order to reduce the risk of brand-safety failure.

In terms of contextualization we see new methods that are quite advanced in involving next-generation technologies like AI and ML, including Natural Language Processing. As for customization it implies data tracking which brings us back to how browser-based proposals and regulation develops.

Knowing that cards might be redistributed in the digital advertising ecosystem, lots of technology providers are already jumping on this transformation path offering their own solution: brand safety detection tools, single sign on, contextual technology, browser-based solutions without individual user ids and ID-based proposals that are based on consent and first party relationships, etc. But key will also be the cooperation between advertisers and publishers to develop a safer and more efficient purchase-safe approach.

Beyond brand safety, I hope that major trends will be supporting responsible business models in an open, competitive and diverse ecosystem.

Maylis holds the position of Director of Innovation and Digital Product at Vocento Group. Her mission is to design and implement ad-tech strategies and to promote innovative solutions in digital media through Vocento’s Media Lab. Her professional career started at Procter & Gamble in France and later she found herself in Berlin and the Axel Springer Group, thus making her transition to the media world.

Her next stations were Gruner+Jahr International and Ligatus Spain, and last year she took up her position at Vocento. At the same time, she stands out for her social action, as she has founded and runs emalaya.org, an NGO that provides IT and coding courses to students in Nepal. Maylis is also an investor in Spain’s start-up ecosystem.