OK, so we’re in the midst of the cookiepocalypse. And while it’s definitely creating some industry-wide anxiety, it’s also sparking a bit of a collaborative renaissance.
That’s because as publishers, platforms and marketers try to figure out how to move beyond third-party cookies, the realization is that doing it together — and coming up with solutions that benefit each segment of the value chain somewhat equally — is the only sustainable way forward.
This theme of collaboration and collective ingenuity came up during a Think Tank we recently hosted with Celtra.
Even before the cookie started to crumble, the pandemic pressured publishers to deliver eyeballs and results, and for many, that meant creating unique, outside-of-the-box ad experiences. But not all publishers have fully-staffed creative services divisions, nor is every ad ops team equipped to traffic (or track) custom campaigns in a scalable way.
So over the course of 2020, revenue and ad ops leads increasingly found themselves needing to collaborate with new contacts within brands and agencies. They also had to come up with hacks and lean on solution providers to help create engaging ad experiences that enticed users (and drove performance). And as we continue to emerge from the post-pandemic haze (and ride out the cookiepocalypse) there are a few changes publishers expect to continue:
1. Operational challenges on the buy-side have created windows of opportunity for publishers to innovate (and collaborate).
Hiring freezes, furloughs and layoffs meant that brand and agency teams were smaller and got tasked with doing more. For some publishers, that made the creative review process a little more challenging:
“We [had situations where] we’d be reaching out to one person for creative approval and they were no longer there. So we had to start the process again with a whole other round of people with different preferences and points of view …”
That created delays in getting campaigns out the door in a streamlined manner.
“We’d have a C-suite level person taking over for someone more junior that had been in the weeds and knew more about the project, and that was a challenge.”
Other companies leveraged these staffing shortages to bring more business in-house.
“[As of Q3 and Q4] the agencies were back, but they weren’t necessarily full-staffed anymore. So they’d say ‘we want to get this campaign running again,’ and we’d ask for the creative and they’d say ‘Oh, that person isn’t back to work yet, or they’re furloughed’ … And that allowed us to come in and say, ‘Ok, let us help you. We can create these things for you.”
“Suddenly, these departments were quite open to having conversations about creative … And because [custom] creative doesn’t really work well when they just send us an asset or an idea, we definitely saw an increase in the kinds of tasks around [designing and developing] creative for our clients.”
2. Advertisers are more willing to use publishers’ content (and context) for creative inspiration.
In the era of pandemic-driven creative collaboration, publishers saw more interest in pulling inspiration directly from their content.
“We saw an increase [in advertisers] wanting campaigns modeled after things the newsroom was doing,” said one news-centric publisher. “Early on in the pandemic we had an animated explainer about flattening the curve, and then we got lots of requests for [campaigns like that] because the newsroom was doing it so well. So, it wasn’t a ‘net new’ creative experience, just one we hadn’t had much desire for from advertisers in the past.”
There was a more direct desire from customers to [create ad experiences] that replicate what they saw in terms of content, and that was a benefit because by helping them build the creative, we were also able to help tell the story contextually.
“There was a more direct desire from customers to [create ad experiences] that replicate what they saw in terms of content, and that was a benefit because by helping them build the creative, we were also able to help tell the story contextually,” added another pub.
“There was definitely a pivot because we do a lot of branded content and a lot of video for our clients,” said one publisher. “And there was a pause [in physical production] so we got to do things like stop motion animation that we’d never been able to do before.”
3. Make it cool … but make it measurable, too.
Yet in addition to ingenuity, brands are asking for more granular metrics.
“It definitely seemed like clients were asking for more and different things with a simple campaign, where in the past, it might have been a particularly easy sale,” said one pub. “Now, suddenly there were more reporting requirements. More requests for different metrics, more requests for tracking.”
“If someone asks us for a custom experience [and we’re able to build it], we do it,” said one publisher. “But then the reporting part is where we often find ourselves in a bit of a challenge. And we’re very transparent with our partners to say ‘we can build this and figure out how to make it beautiful, but sometimes with reporting there are limitations.”
I'd say one of our biggest challenges is how to build something beautiful but also provide a bunch of different kinds of metrics that the client needs to determine that it was a success.
“I’d say one of our biggest challenges is how to build something beautiful but also provide a bunch of different kinds of metrics that the client needs to determine that it was a success.”
For some pubs, delivering those results means having a conversation with the client about exactly what kinds of metrics would align with the audience (and the ad unit itself):
“I think one of the biggest things that we’re constantly battling — especially with our metrics that we pull from Gen Z and how they react to ads — is being able to find ways to make ads more interesting and interactive, without having it scream ‘this is an ad’,” said one publisher. “That requires having a conversation though, about how to measure the interactive features in a way that’s not just clicks or view throughs.”
4. Enabling e-commerce is now table stakes.
Creatives that can drive in-store traffic have always been in high demand for retail advertisers, but post-pandemic, being able to drive e-commerce purchases is just as important.
“We saw a huge spike in people strategizing how they could shift the ‘drive to store’ kinds of campaigns to e-commerce and ‘shop now’ ad formats,” said one pub. “And it was really collaborative for us, in terms of the buyer wanting to shape the experience and help us craft an ad that gots the same cost-per-interaction (CPI) in an online shopping environment.”
Another publisher agreed. “We already had shoppable ad formats, so it was an easy transition. Where the growth came from was our customer success managers sharing this info with clients that weren’t already using them. So it drove a different kind of internal collaboration … we had the account management team working with ad ops and sales to help craft these more compelling pitches around our e-commerce capabilities.”
What the discussion revealed is that for many publishers, the pandemic forced their teams to develop a new level of creative agility, as well as a broader sense of collaboration (both internally and externally). And there are signs that, in a post-pandemic, post-cookie world, advertisers will continue to look for media partners that can collaborate, pivot, and help develop distinct, but scalable ad experiences.