Interview: How G/O Media plans to use first-party data from Gizmodo and other sites to entice advertisers after cookies

G/O Media advertising plan

G/O Media – publisher of Gizmodo and the Onion – this week became the latest big-name media group to reveal its post-cookies advertising vision for the future.

Its new marketing product, G/O Veritas, will seek to build up reader profiles for advertisers using 15 years’ worth of data gathered through its diverse stable of 11 free-to-access consumer sites.

Like all publishers, G/O – which claims to reach 100m unique users a month through AV Club, Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, Lifehacker, the Root, the Takeout, the Onion and the Inventory – is likely to experience a commercial jolt as it readies itself for the end of cookies. (G/O says it has already mostly phased out third-party cookies.)

David Spiegel, the company’s chief revenue officer, is confident that G/O – which has around 300 employees and is expanding – will be able to offer advertisers an enticing alternative in the form of Veritas.

[This interview first featured in Press Gazette’s ‘Future of News – US’ newsletter. Click here to sign up and receive this content first.]

Context is king for G/O

Key to G/O’s offering will be the fact that its sites are all run through its own content management system (CMS), Kinja, which offers “consumer engagement” insights stretching back over 15 years.

Spiegel, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, Vox Media and Buzzfeed, explains: “So we can take people’s comments, their social signals, their engagement with advertising, the content they’re clicking, the commerce links they’re clicking on… and build a much richer profile of them [for advertisers].”

He adds that G/O’s brands “were built on consumer engagement for years – that was the original premise behind Kinja in the first place” – and this “gives us a little bit of differentiation from how we can tell that story.

“In the grand scheme of things, I think that having better data and better insights into your audience is going to be table stakes in the web when the third-party cookie disappears and people really go back to context.”

What kind of data would G/O be able to offer to advertisers?

Spiegel offers a hypothetical example of a user who comes to Gizmodo via a Google search to read a laptop review. G/O might also know, through the reader’s use of AV Club, what TV shows they watch. And the publisher could also have an awareness of their shopping habits through its e-commerce platform, Kinja Deals.

“It’s going to be a lot of context and inference,” says Spiegel. “And from there, the idea is we can deliver better levels of intent based on this profile… Using machine learning [to determine]: this person is possibly likely to buy X, Y and Z. Or, based on the content they read, we know they’re a fan of Seth Rogen.”

He says G/O can also, again using the data it has built up over many years, provide marketers with an idea of how likely a user is to engage with ads: “So, do they click on things? Do they watch ads? Do they skip them? Do they watch videos to completion?”

[This interview first featured in Press Gazette’s ‘Future of News – US’ newsletter. Click here to sign up and receive this content first.]

Other publishers have ‘incidental traffic’… we have ‘fans’

Spiegel believes G/O also stands to benefit because it has “arguably one of the most diverse portfolios in the industry.

“We are deep into comedy and satire. We have the leading site in black news and culture… I don’t think there’s a portfolio of publishers that lines up like that.”

Another advantage, he says, is that G/O has a higher-than-average proportion of loyal, or returning, readers.

Spiegel says he fears for “publishers who have been very reliant on incidental traffic – whether that’s the people who chased social and things like that. We have a really high percentage of direct traffic.

“We have people who are coming because they are fans of Jalopnik, or they are fans of Gizmodo – it’s a brand that they wear on their sleeve and are active on the page in terms of commenting and engagement. And that’s a differentiation point.

“Incidental traffic can provide scale, but if someone goes to a page on a website once, who cares what they look like? Right?

“There are websites I visit incidentally and there are ones that I go to every single day. I think that will translate further into value because of the addressability of your audience as opposed to: how many impressions can you serve on the media plan?”

[This interview first featured in Press Gazette’s ‘Future of News – US’ newsletter. Click here to sign up and receive this content first.]

Email as an identifier? ‘There are too many flaws’

While G/O makes the majority of its revenue from advertising – other sources include events, commerce and licensing – many other large publishers have been busy building up their subscription businesses in recent years. (Press Gazette’s 100k Club found there are now more than 23m subscribers to English-language news websites.)

For news businesses like the New York Times, building reader revenues appears to be the focus. But, as covered by Press Gazette, the NYT is also planning to use its first-party subscriber data to enhance its ad offering.

Because G/O’s websites are free to access – meaning readers do not need to log in to access any content – this is less of an option for Spiegel and his team, who will generally have to rely on IP addresses as identifiers for users.

“We’re not going to walk away from the idea of getting an email, and obviously newsletters are a great informative tool – they’re a great way of building a community. But I do think the open web as a whole you can go towards it, but there are too many flaws.”

Spiegel is not convinced by the strategy because only a small proportion of news website readers log in to a website.

“I think the idea that adtech is going out there talking about the email as an identifier is smart from their perspective. It’s going to benefit certain segments, which are gated environments. It’s going to benefit in theory Hulu and ad-supported places where you have to log in to get there and access anything.

“But for the open web, that’s not going to be the scalable solution.”

[Read more: UK publishers could lose hundreds of millions in ad revenues after cookies]

‘You’re going to see advertisers pivot to context’

Beyond G/O, how does Spiegel think the death of third-party cookies will change the publishing industry?

“Crystal balling the future, I think it’s going to be an evolving space. I think that January 2022 is going to be a realisation moment. If you think about just how much of a publisher’s inventory is falling to open, non-direct programmatic…

“The ones that have invested in building strategy, that’s when all of this [preparation] is going to start to pay off. But it’s going to take time for the industry as a whole to adopt it because, not for nothing, our advertisers have been using a flawed attribution model based on the third-party cookie for the last 20 years.”

He predicts a “wave of consolidation” and suggests that publishers and marketers will come to recognise the merits of contextual advertising.

“Context never really went away from being effective,” he says, noting that it has always worked well with traditional media – TV, radio and print. “It just didn’t check the box when you’re saying: ‘Oh, am I hitting a 21-34-year-old who might be interested in X, Y and Z?’”

He adds: “So we’re going to go back in a sense to the way that advertising has always worked, which is that context is key. And intent signals are key. And building a robust picture… It’s taking context to the next level.”

Photo credit: Postmodern Studio/ Shutterstock

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