You think you know native advertising in email, but you really have no idea.
While the rest of digital media is changing all around us, email newsletters are holding steady as the best way to reach an audience, with deeper engagement, plus an amazing ROI. But when it comes to monetizing email newsletters, especially from a programmatic standpoint, many publishers have been leery about damaging user trust by potentially serving them low-quality, irrelevant advertising.
Perhaps that was a worry long ago, but native programmatic advertising in email has come a long way. It’s growing as a significant source for diversifying programmatic revenue, and as the third-party cookie crumbles, it offers publishers inventory that won’t be impacted by its demise.
With that in mind, LiveIntent recently launched Native Ad Blueprints, a solution for publishers to create scalable premium ad experiences, streamline their native ad operations, and better target, optimize and measure their native campaigns. We spoke with Nick Dujnic, VP, Marketing, LiveIntent to learn more about this new product, as well as why publisher preparation for the coming cookiepocalypse should include programmatic advertising in email to help future-proof their revenue strategy.
Lynne d Johnson: As we approach third-party cookie annihilation, publishers are turning to various solutions to increase their first-party data, and as well to secure incremental revenue in anticipation of lost CPMs. Email newsletters and logins are at the forefront of those strategies. You guys are planning for this with your new product Native Ad Blueprints. Why should publishers be thinking about native in email now?
Nick Dujnic: I think there are two sides to how publishers are thinking about the third-party cookie deprecation. There is obviously fear over the loss of programmatic revenue, which primarily relies on third-party cookies to identify audiences. And when you can’t identify audiences on your website, it decreases the value of those audiences. That’s why the focus is on email, not just as a way of collecting and building out your first-party data, but also as a way to supplement and future-proof your website audiences and tying that data to the bids that are happening on your website.
But it’s also that email is a logged-in media channel that does not rely on third-party cookies. Many publishers are thinking about how to build this out more. This inventory isn’t impacted by the third-party cookie’s deprecation from a programmatic advertising standpoint. They’re also looking to mitigate the impact of potential loss in revenue by building out premium experiences with their direct advertising partners and give them more options. Native advertising in email newsletters combines the two.
With native advertising in email newsletters, publishers can offer their advertisers curated premium sponsored content within this logged-in channel, making it the best of both worlds. There are newsletters doing this in a custom way, like Morning Brew and the SKimm, that have content teams working with advertising partners to build out specific content that can be offered at premium pricing. But not every publisher can create sponsored content from that standpoint. Part of why we made Native Ad Blueprints is to provide publishers with a scalable solution for creating those custom experiences within email newsletters without all of that work.
LdJ: How does this new tool impact user experience? For instance, we have a premium content newsletter called the Wrapper, that we work with our partners to craft the content and provide recommendations on their ad unit, and then we place it manually. We want the sponsored content to flow seamlessly within our content. We fear giving up control over the look and feel because we know our audience. I’m sure other publishers are concerned about UX as well.
Why do you think many publishers are wary of programmatic native ads in email?
ND: When a lot of people think about programmatic native, they tend to think about it in terms of those sponsored content pieces that sit along the bottom of an article, like “Ten Ways Celebrities Stay Thin” or “You Won’t Believe What This Person Looks Like Today,” which is the equivalent of the headlines you see when you’re checking out at the supermarket.
With native advertising in email newsletters, publishers can offer their advertisers curated premium sponsored content within this logged-in channel, making it the best of both worlds.
Those ads are typically sold at very bottom-of-the-barrel prices and the images that are associated with them can be classified as risky. They’re usually not super customizable and are pretty much the same format across the board — square image, 30 character headlines, CTA. These pieces are the opposite of what native ads were intended to be—seamless and not disruptive. Unfortunately, this perception doesn’t reflect a true native ads experience.
Publishers want the ability to manage the ad experience without affronting their readers with something they find either distasteful or offensive. Up to this point, publishers have had to maintain control by manually creating these experiences themselves, hard coding ads into their web pages, and email newsletters to get the brand-safe experience they want.
But that’s hard to scale. And it’s also hard to personalize these ads, beyond just the email send list. You can’t work with multiple native advertising partners, serving two campaigns at the same time with the same level of targeting and optimization that you would with display in a programmatic sense. And these are the problems we’re trying to solve with Native Ad Blueprints.
LdJ: If you had to provide an elevator pitch for what you guys are trying to do with native in email, what would that be?
ND: With Native Ad Blueprints, we basically want to make it so anyone who sends an email has a way to make customized ad spots and ad slots and make them a natural part of their newsletters. We want to streamline native ad operations, saving time and effort with real-time ad serving, and provide access to targeting, optimization, and reporting features that you get from other ad serving technology that you’re working with.
LdJ: Why is native in email ideal for programmatic and how do you make it scalable?
ND: When we talk about scale, we’re talking about really creating and delivering more of these premium ad experiences.
Suppose you’re a large media company with a broad and diverse audience, and a portion of that audience reads your Morning Alerts newsletter. You’re working with an advertiser partner, and want to offer them a native ad spot but only within your Morning Alerts newsletter. Basically, without Native Ad Blueprints, you can only offer one massive sponsorship that reaches across your entire audience instead of those subscribed to that specific newsletter. The programmatic element comes in with Native Ad Blueprints because it gives you the ability to target audiences at an impression level, at the time the email is opened, rather than at the time of send. And you can have multiple campaigns running at the same time.
So you can have a campaign with a major sneaker brand reaching one particular audience and you can also have another campaign with a major electronics brand. You can set up and serve both campaigns across your entire newsletter inventory — wherever you have these ad slots active — and know that they’ll appear in a way that is complementary to your newsletter, aligned with your brand guidelines, and without having to hard code every single one of your newsletter templates.
LdJ: How does Native Ad Blueprints help tie native into your display strategy?
ND: I would say it’s more complementary, but it can operate in the way that you might be used to serving display. With display ads, you fill a sponsorship, and then once that sponsorship runs out, you might also open up that inventory to third-party demand sources. So you’re just driving incremental revenue down the line with the same level of customization and control that you would have if you were hard coding it yourself.
With Native Ad Blueprints, it could work similarly for your direct-sold campaigns. There is obviously a little bit more from the customization standpoint on the front end. But once it is set up correctly, it’s basically the same — you can dynamically target, serve and optimize.
LdJ: So to sum it up, LiveIntent wants to make publishers’ lives easier when it comes to creating premium ad experiences?
ND: Right. Publishers are investing more in their email newsletters and see them as more than just a website traffic channel, but instead as a content experience in itself. Publishers want to create more innovative, more premium ad experiences. But as they look to do more, they realize there’s limited scale.
This is something that they want that’s important to them and is critical to their direct sales strategy going forward, so we’re trying to solve it for them as best we can.
LdJ: What can you tell us about the publishers you’ve tested Native Ad Blueprints with thus far?
ND: I can tell you that their ad operations teams are coming back to us and saying, “You have saved us so much time. This is so much easier than what we were doing before.”
The tests we’ve run so far are small-scale, but we just reached general availability for this product and we predict — since this is such customized and valuable inventory — publishers will drive a lot of revenue from it.