In Depth: How Time Inc. Is Pivoting from Cookie-Based to People-Based Ad Targeting

Time Inc.'s Erik Moreno explains how publishers can help their clients navigate a disjointed marketing landscape and connect with real people as opposed to chasing cookies.


The Setup

Time Inc. is the largest magazine publisher in the world with over 100 brands and a subscriber base exceeding 100 million. Certainly this massive audience is a major asset for the publisher because it can connect advertisers with a multitude of highly engaged consumers in a variety of verticals. But Time Inc. faces a major barrier to success and that is what Erik Moreno, EVP and president of corporate development, new ventures and investments, calls “The CMO Challenge.”

The CMOs that Time Inc. works with are charged with a near impossible task in today’s media industry. They must cut through the noise of a fragmented media landscape to deliver their marketing message to consumers who use multiple devices and media platforms throughout the day. Not only do these CMOs need to effectively “be everywhere” to reach consumers, but they have to measure what consumers do after they view their marketing and then tie those actions to revenue.

Although this type of measurement is possible online, it’s incredibly difficult to understand consumers on an individual level because few follow a linear path to purchase and tracking across different devices is often unreliable. This puts publishers in a difficult spot, says Moreno. If they cannot help CMOs understand the revenue they are driving through their ads, publishers will have a difficult time justifying higher CPMs and fighting the commoditization of their ad inventory.

Along with its audience data strategy, Time Inc has reshuffled its entire sales organization and approach to meet modern CMO's objectives.

Erik Moreno explains The CMO Challenge at FUSE: The Convergence of Technology & Media. Watch the full session from FUSE here.

The Strategy: Keeping Track of Consumers in a Mobile World

At FUSE: The Convergence of Technology & Media held in Philadelphia September 12-14, Moreno presented Time Inc.’s strategy for tracking and targeting consumers in a fragmented, mobile media environment. Moreno says Time Inc. realized that the root of publishers and CMOs’ problems is the cookie. (Cookies are small files that are stored on users’ computers based on their browsing history.) Advertisers use cookies to target their ads to particular users, based on their past online activity. Cookies worked relatively well for publishers and advertisers when consumers browsed the web primarily with their desktops. Now with tablets and mobile devices growing in popularity, cookies are “going the way of the dodo,” says Moreno. Cookies are not stored when users browse on their smartphone or tablet, so targeting ads across different devices is incredibly difficult. And users clear their cookies on average once a month, meaning all of the information advertisers collect about particular consumers disappears regularly, forcing advertisers to begin the data gathering process from square one.

Moreno says that if Time Inc. can properly leverage its database of registered users to target ads based on people, rather than cookies, then advertisers could reliably reach the consumers they want, regardless of platform or device.

At the end of the day, once you start targeting at the audience level, the fact that a mom may be on, or Café Mom, or they might be on a stroller blog, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same person, and we’re reaching them in all of those places

—Erik Moreno, Time Inc.

Solution: Time Inc. Focuses On Known 
Audience Development & Targeting Efforts

When Moreno joined Time Inc. in 2015 the first acquisition he worked on was that of Viant, an ad tech company that helps advertisers with identity management, ad distribution, and reporting. But what made Viant particularly valuable to Time Inc. was its massive database of registered users. In 2011 Viant acquired MySpace, and although the social media site has long since been dwarfed by the dominant Facebook, it has maintained a massive registered user database. That database, combined with Time Inc.’s, now exceeds 1.2 billion users. “It rivals Facebook in terms of capability,” says Moreno.

Time Inc. uses this database to attack The CMO Challenge from a variety of angles. First, the Viant audience database can ingest a marketer’s email list and fill in demographic and behavioral data about those users. “For example, a retailer might have 5 million emails but they have no idea who they are. We upload those emails into our system and fill in the profile data. We give away that data for free,” said Moreno. This is an opportunity for Time Inc. to demonstrate the depth and breadth of Viant’s database.

That CMO could take its appended email list and run a campaign with another ad tech company, but what compels many CMOs to sign on with Viant is its audience matching capability, said Moreno. Viant can match marketers’ audiences with similar consumers in its database. “Even though you have five million customers with this profile, we can get you 10 million or 50 million customers that look just like those,” says Moreno. “And that’s where the magic starts to happen.” When CMOs hear that they can effectively double or triple their costumer databases, they’re eager to sign on.

In addition to its audience database capabilities, Viant can execute advertising campaigns to target specific users across Time Inc. sites. And, because Viant is targeting users, not cookies, it can reliably deliver ads on sites outside of Time Inc.’s owned and operated properties and across different devices. “At the end of the day, once you start targeting at the audience level, the fact that a mom may be on, or Café Mom, or they might be on a stroller blog, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same person, and we’re reaching them in all of those places,” says Moreno.

Viant's technology allows Time Inc. to identify individuals in its database, track what ads or content they interact with, and understand the actions that they take after viewing an ad.

Finally, Viant provides detailed reporting of its campaigns. In some cases, the technology can track consumer activity up to the point of purchase. If the advertiser has an API for the retailer’s cash register, than Viant can report the exact dollar amount that a campaign drove for the company. “To me, that’s a game changer,” says Moreno. “Because the magazine industry has inspired an enormous amount of commerce activity but we’ve never been able to take credit for it.” With Viant, Time Inc. can finally demonstrate the impact of marketing to its audience and justify the cost of advertising.

The icing on the cake is that Viant is an all-in-one solution for CMOs, says Moreno. Typically, a CMO might spend 60% of his marketing budget on a variety of technology vendors that optimize his messaging for different platforms and devices. He has to pay an ad exchange vendor, a rich media vendor, a social media vendor, and so on. Instead of stitching together all of these tools that may not work effectively together, the CMO can have all of that functionality with Viant. And much of the revenue that used to go to technology vendors can instead go right to the publisher, Time Inc.

Key Takeaways: Publishers Need to Deliver Real Audience to Advertisers, Not Just Impressions

In many ways, the CMO Challenge is also the Publisher Challenge. To survive in an increasingly mobile and digital media landscape, publishers need to find creative ways to better connect their audience with advertisers. Publishers have the audiences that advertisers want, but they need to invest in a holistic solution that clearly demonstrates who CMOs can reach within the publishers’ audiences, delivers targeted campaigns to individuals based on their interests and behavior, and demonstrates the ROI of their marketing.

While not all publishers can afford to acquire an ad tech company, many do have the capability to put their audience databases to work for advertisers. Publishers can parse their audience into segments that are compelling to certain advertisers. They can then launch campaigns that reach those users across device and platforms and utilize programmatic solutions to deliver ads on behalf of advertisers outside of publishers’ owned and operated properties. This is by no means a simple task for publishers, but it is absolutely imperative that publishers demonstrate how a campaign performed with hard numbers, not guesses. The days of spray and pray advertising are over. Advertisers want to connect on an individual basis with consumers, and that’s something publishers are uniquely suited to help them do.

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