Advertising Guest Columns
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Closer and direct: What Italian media can teach us

alley in sunny town

Italian publishers are facing similar hurdles to their counterparts in the rest of Europe and in the US. However, while this means focus is often placed on similar areas, there are key differences in how those challenges are tackled, particularly when it comes to publisher-advertiser relationships.

Those common areas of focus will sound familiar to publishers around the world – whether it is maintaining CPMs, protecting content rights, scaling local content, experimentation around paywalls or improving data profiling, all set against a backdrop of market consolidation. However, in Italy there is a direct and personalised approach between brands and publishers with “value deals”, as well as special or native projects with top brands.

Enhancement of own data for profiling

This closer and more direct relationship often spills over into data. In Italy, the trust between advertisers and publishers means the enhancement of owned data is an important element for first-party data profiling and interest profiling. First-party data is often shared, allowing targeting to be based on what then becomes second-party data.

This is mutually beneficial in a market where it is more commonplace to strengthen first-party data with carefully selected partners to allow far better personalisation of content and much better targeted advertising. That is not to say it is an everyday strategy, but more usually accompanies a big value deal between a brand and a media owner to cement a special project, typically tied into an ambitious campaign.

This can see the coming together of what a brand knows about its customers alongside registration details and browsing habits the publisher will have at its disposal. Better targeting is one obvious benefit but so too is propensity modelling. When data sets are combined, it can be easier to place where a customer or prospect is on the path to conversion. In turn, this can help inform both parties what the person might be considering next so that a more tailored message can be delivered to the right person at the right time.

Special direct relationships will often lead to publishers going the extra mile for their advertisers for important campaigns or specific time periods. This often will involve a publisher carrying out further advanced contextual targeting projects using Semantic-Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology, directly for the brand’s needs. For example, a brand may want a “brand dominance” project covering all the available inventory for a specific concept/product category in a period to create a strong emotional connection between the audience and its brand. Whilst, to better personalise an offer, there is a prevalent focus on special formats and native projects. Alternatively, there could be greater attention to hyperlocal content for improved customer engagement but with scale selling for better monetisation for the publisher.

Additionally, we are currently seeing a trend where publishers are focusing on creating content only for specific social channels with editorial independency; indeed, some publishers have opened new magazines only available on social. Publishers are also partnering with influencers to add their inventory to the directly managed inventory within their offer.

Safety first

As one can imagine, this direct relationship means publishers make a lot of effort to protect brands from appearing against inappropriate content. This is not only helped by brands going direct to trusted sites but also by using Semantic NLP technology to fully understand the context of a page, overcoming the limitations of basic keyword extraction/presence solutions.

Indeed, last year, Italy’s leading digital advertising associations (UPA – the Italian Advertisers’ Association, IAB Italia, Assocom, FCP‐Assointernet, Fedoweb, Fieg, Netcomm, Unicom), jointly agreed a regulatory approach to managing digital communications in line with brand safety. The approach stated that semantic technology is the best tool for brand safety.

As a result, Italian publishers understand that to maintain high CPMs they cannot be constrained by blunt brand safety measures, such as blocking sites or entire pages because their URL contains a trigger keyword. It can be surprising how often other countries’ publishers are inadvertently punished for having a particular word in a URL, even though it is not being used in an unsafe context. Reference to a murder or a knife, for example, could merely mean the page is an engaging read about a new thriller series appearing on television or a chef’s guide to the best equipment in the kitchen.

Publishers and advertisers in Italy accept that this high-level approach to brand safety is far too prone to false results, causing brands to be prevented from buying space where their targeted audience is likely to be found. So, there is more of a tendency to look at the content itself, to analyse the language to discover what the story is about. That way, a piece containing the word bomb is not automatically blacklisted but instead artificial intelligence, such as Semantic NLP, can understand that the bomb in question is a bath bomb, and that it’s a perfect article for, say, spa or beauty brands to be advertising in.

Although it would be simplistic to suggest a united front, it would be fair to say that there is a closer working relationship between brands and media owners in Italy. Both need each other and the two sides are more likely than in other markets to translate this mutual reliance into dealing directly and sharing data on creative projects so adverts are more relevant and better targeted.

The difference, then, would have to be summed up as publishers and brands focusing more on what unites them, their common cause, and how closer ties, direct buying and data sharing can help them both succeed. And other markets, especially the UK, need to take note.

Giovanni Strocchi, CEO, ADmantX

About: ADmantX is a smart data provider that facilitates advanced brand planning and targeting within the digital advertising industry, enabling publishers and advertisers to match ads to relevant online content at page level. Scalable, accurate and customizable, its solutions keep brands safe and relevant whilst enhancing performance.

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