6 mins read

Damon Reeve speaks about The Ozone Project: the UK’s leading digital advertising marketplace

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The Ozone Project – formed by The Guardian, News UK, The Telegraph and Reach in 2018 – is the UK’s leading fully transparent and brand-safe digital marketplace, offering advertisers direct access to over 44 million people in a context they trust. By creating a single sales point for a unified, scaled advertising proposition, Ozone’s publishers are in a position to directly compete with the Duopoly (who currently take 63% of UK online ad spend worth £9 billion).

The Ozone Project’s CEO is Damon Reeve. WNIP caught up with him to find out more…

WNIP: Damon, can you give me a quick summary of your journey and why you decided to join The Ozone Project?

DR: Right, well my journey in digital advertising began with Unanimis, a UK advertising network I co-founded in 2001 and was involved with for ten years before selling to France Telecom. During that time Doubleclick’s DFP was the leading ad-server technology, and to a lesser extent 24/7 Real Media. Neither platform met our needs so we invested in our own technology path and created OpenX, a company I ran for three years until self-funding became too expensive and we sold the platform to Index Ventures.

After leaving Unanimis I took a few years off, then moved to New York and set up Authenticated Digital Inc. Authenticated’s purpose was to help platforms understand the quality of the bidstream data they were processing. Ironic really, today it is a very much needed product – but five years ago, no-one cared as programmatic advertising was all about scale. I think we were a little bit too early to the quality game!

As a result of my Authenticated experience, I realised that the professional publishers and brands were heavily disadvantaged in programmatic advertising, as the value of the quality content and audience they produced counted for very little. And yet they were the source of everyone’s value in the programmatic chain. So, for my next project after Authenticated, I wanted to invest my time in creating value for either brands or publishers. I felt that news brands  – out of all the publisher groups – were the most misrepresented. And as an industry I believed we had the most to gain by promoting their businesses.

I started speaking to various news brands and we quickly arrived at a proposition that became The Ozone Project. These conversations focused on two objectives; the first being to give publishers greater control over their advertising business. One of the criticisms publishers had of the programmatic approach was that the agenda was very much set by technology companies. A good example being the first IAB’s consent framework, which was designed by twenty-seven ad tech companies and just one publisher, but nevertheless remains a framework the industry expected publishers to support.

WNIP: You mentioned two objectives…

DR: Sure, the second objective was for advertisers to have greater transparency and control over audience reach. It’s difficult for advertisers to see where value lies in their programmatic spend and how they can reach audiences in different ways.  

Publishers invest heavily in building content, supporting journalists and in creating audiences, yet in a programmatic advertising world, quality journalist-generated content is completely discounted.

The open programmatic market doesn’t care about the audience that the news brand has created – they only care about the MPU ad slot the title can provide for sale. But I do care about the individual audiences that the news brands have created and I am focused on bringing the value of those digital audiences back into play.

WNIP: And how are you doing that? Through shared data assets?

DR: There is a clear acknowledgment within The Ozone Project that the only way to effect change is for publishers to work together. When 75-80% of the market is dominated by no more than five companies then you have to collaborate in order to be competitive. Coming together as a group who historically have been competitors, is a clear recognition that our competition is no longer each other but rather represented by those five companies.

Collaboration is key. But there’s no easy way to address these challenges; some exist on a policy and regulatory level, some are in a market engagement level, some involve technology and some use datasets.

In terms of helping advertisers, one aspect is in pulling all our audience data together and building a single data set – when combined it’s over 44 million unique users in the UK; that’s about 99% of the adult population. When you have the scale, you are able to use that to create value.

One of the most important components of this is creating a transparent and easy to access way for advertisers to use their own first-party data alongside our publishers’ reader data. And that’s something a vendor cannot do.

AE: And can you point to any success with that?

DR: Yes, our ongoing work with Dunelm.  It’s been a really successful partnership. We’ve succeeded on every KPI. This happens when you can bring to life, first-party publisher data and take it to market in a way that’s accessible for brands. The users are more engaged, memorability is higher, brand consideration is higher, visibility rates are higher – it just works.

WNIP: What is the future of The Ozone Project within the context of issues of audience targeting, the demise of the cookie, the situation where Google and Facebook have a single user ID where, in contrast, the programmatic advertising approach is so muddled.

DR: I believe that user ID is central to the long term value that premium publishers can offer. Identity management will always be challenging and increasingly so in digital advertising, and certainly in comparison with platforms operated by companies like Google and Facebook. The long-term objective is to re-define what success means in programmatic.

I’ll call Google out here and say that they have been incredibly successful at designing the current programmatic advertising world around conversions and attribution, relating the sale or conversation metric back to advertising that was seen by the user. That works for search and, within display advertising, last click or last few clicks attribution. I question whether that actually creates true value for the marketer, but it is the way in which the market has evolved and developed. What will ultimately drive greater value for the advertiser across all measures is delivering against their brand KPIs rather than simply direct response KPIs.

WNIP: And what will that look like? How will you measure branding?

DR: If we try to play by Google’s rules of attribution, we will never be successful. Our opportunity as premium publishers is to work with marketers to change the rules and redefine what we consider to be of value. Most of the brands we have talked to agree with us completely. It’s not an impossible task, but it will require us to galvanise our collective understanding to do it. In the end we want marketers’ to evaluate their digital advertising, not by adtech metrics, but by using the same effectiveness measures as they do for other media.

Case study: Ozone and Dunelm

In Q4 2019 The Ozone Project ran a six-figure campaign with leading home furnishing retailer Dunelm. Using regression analysis, The Ozone Project’s brand study partner Brand Metrics found Dunelm’s awareness was 93% within the Furnishing category. With such a high awareness, moving the needle posed a significant challenge.

The team’s task was to understand the Dunelm audience as they engaged in content across the founding publishers’ scope and ensure that brand messages had impact, progressing the audience in their affinity with the Dunelm brand.

The Ozone Project focused on audiences with a high propensity to engage in relevant content (such as home and furnishings or property) and those being at a life stage where they are looking at home furnishings (new family, retirement). Time of day and frequency were key parameters in reaching the right audience and matching audience to product message.

The brand effectiveness study highlighted uplift in all areas and with a particularly high increase in intent to buy. Having doubled their return on investment and gathered enriched audience information from The Ozone Project’s dataset and pixels, a Spring campaign was subsequently planned in order to target previously untapped audience segments. Five audience clusters were created and targeted on a separate line of the new campaign. These went on to outperform the rest of the Spring campaign with a lower effective cost per action (eCPA) of 34%.

Results from the initial campaign results were strong:

  • Dunelm reached more than 3.2M people (20% more than targeted)
  • Brand studies isolated the effect of The Ozone Project (within the wider media plan) and found it:
    • Shifted intention to buy +22%
    • Shifted brand preference +13%
    • Shifted brand consideration +8%
    • Bespoke audience eCPA -67%
  • With a unique reach across The Ozone Project’s titles (News UK, Reach PLC, The Guardian and The Telegraph) it was able to demonstrate delivery of 20% more unique users than the expectation.

Dunelm and its agency have subsequently booked 2 further campaigns.

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