How Can Publishers Use Data to Manage and Profit from Ad Block Users?
Most publishers have always had a part of their business devoted to database marketing. In past years, this focused on subscription marketing, customer relationship management, and handling circulation targeting for print-platform products. With the growth of the digital side of the business, publishers have moved into the vastly more complex world of data management platforms (DMPs), demand-side platforms (DSPs), supply-side platforms (SSPs), ad networks, ad exchanges, private exchanges, programmatic buying markets, programmatic direct markets, header bidding, deal identifiers, and the like.
Though each of these marketplaces has its own quirks -- its own plusses and minuses for publishers -- the cornerstone for publisher participation in any of these marketplaces remains the Data Management Platform or DMP. The DMP is the publisher’s proprietary data warehouse for hoovering up information about visitors to your websites -- mostly consisting of Cookie IDs that give some information about the visitor along with website tracking information that tells you something about what they did on your website.
By far, the most common use of the data from DMPs is the creation of audience segments that can then be sold to advertisers. This use of the DMP allows publishers to sell advertising packages that span multiple media brands, thereby attracting advertisers looking for greater efficiency and scale. The DMP also allows publishers to participate in many of the digital advertising marketplaces mentioned above.
However this participation is not without costs. The complexity of ad tech can cause latency that frustrates users; this is the time cost of ad tech. Ad tech also requires that the publisher share some of the ad revenue with the middlemen who facilitate the transactions; this is the much-discussed “ad tech tax” that publishers are obliged to pay. And since some websites permit or encourage aggressive advertising techniques (e.g. pop-ups, screen-grabs, auto-start video), the resulting consumer experience can be negative. So it is not surprising that so many consumers are now turning to ad blocking, to the alarm both of marketers and publishers.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. One of the most important secrets to the long-established success of print-based advertising in magazines and newspapers has always been its consumer-friendly nature. It doesn’t challenge the reader’s control of the media consumption experience. Either you are interested enough to look at the ad or you turn the page. No scrambling to find the “close” box. No hitting the mute button. No need to download ad blocking software or periodically clear out your cookie files. The print ad invites you to look at it, but it doesn’t interrupt you or shout at you or try to grab control of the room.
DMPs can allow publishers to extend the same courtesies to their digital readers. DMPs can usually see which customers are blocking ads. Some publishers have developed and refined techniques for asking these customers to pay for an ad-free site experience -- and that certainly is one way to monetize your DMP data. But even if a publisher allows ad-avoidant consumers to get some content from the site, there is considerable value in treating those consumers as a distinct segment worthy of marketer attention. Because the publisher can also see what kinds of editorial content this segment favors and what other web behaviors they exhibit on the site, she can do a better job of informing the advertiser of who is being missed. This segment might be more amenable to forms of sponsored content or of native advertising. At a minimum, this segment should be handled with some discretion and thoughtfulness.
Ultimately, the publisher might decide that the ad-avoidant segment is too unprofitable to merit kid glove treatment; but it might also be the case that this hard-to-get segment is highly desirable with lots of money to spend and other attractive market traits. If so, perhaps they can be profitable if given a personalized mix of content that is mindful of their ambivalence toward advertising. We will never know unless we start using the DMP to segment them, study them, and understand them.