Advertising Digital Publishing
4 mins read

Data in advertising: How can publishers retain user trust?

As more users expect transparency, control, and choice over how their data is used, how can publishers build consumer trust, protect user privacy, and create a more responsible web? Becky Dutta, VP of Customer Success at Permutive, and Mathew Rance, Head of Commercial Data at Immediate Media, met as part of the Responsible Web Roadshow to discuss how publishers are addressing the issue…

One constant in an industry that is in a state of flux is the need for a more responsible approach to advertising using first-party data. Publishers have been working on their first-party data strategies for some time but now need to get the fundamentals in place, according to Immediate Media Company’s Rance.

“It’s important to have a defined narrative for your first-party data – a clear, concise playbook where you have a thorough understanding of what you offer, the audiences you have, why you need them, and what insights you can deliver,” he explained, emphasizing the importance of packaging data in the right way.

Giving [first-party data] sets a badge or branding is essential to make them easier to sell. The story you tell about your first-party data will always be the most important factor.

Mathew Rance, Head of Commercial Data at Immediate Media Co

Consent is a bigger threat than third-party cookies

Another trend Rance highlighted is the attitude towards third-party cookies, historically viewed as an advertising-only problem is now seen as an issue for publishers internally. “I’ve never sat on more internal data steering committees and identity focus groups,” he said. “It can only be a good thing that this is now recognized collectively by the business as something we all must face.”

Responsible Web Roadshow, London

However, Rance believes far bigger challenges are just around the corner. “We’ve spoken for years, quite rightly, about the impact the removal of third-party cookies will have on our industry. But despite this presenting a huge danger, it only really impacts our open exchange-related revenue, providing we’re investing in the right technology,” he said. “If we’re working directly with a client and we’re using our own first-party data, then there really shouldn’t be too much risk involved.”

A particular concern is the changes on the horizon relating to consent, such as having to offer a ‘reject all’ ads option to users on the first layer. Immediate Media originally thought that ‘reject all’ could mean they cannot serve a user an ad. Although this might not be the case, Rance said “it will, at the very least, mean a very limited type of ad can be served and therefore likely one that is very low yielding.” Immediate Media has run tests that indicated this could cut total digital revenue by a very significant amount.

Maintaining consumer trust

A key factor here is user trust, which Rance believes publishers have been slow to address. “We’ve been a bit lazy about value propositions in terms of communicating clearly to users how we handle their data and what value it provides. This becomes critical in terms of what’s now taking place around user consent,” he said. “With research indicating that most users are becoming increasingly concerned about their data privacy, while at the same time not understanding how it’s being used, this is a potentially lethal combination.”

Rance believes publishers can learn from walled gardens in how they put privacy front and centre, stressing the need to do a better job of articulating and demystifying how they handle user data to offer more reassurance and build user confidence.

Moving on to address sustainability in publishing, Rance made it clear that he thinks the current status quo for programmatic is unsustainable. “Serving just one ad requires hundreds of server calls in some cases, along with cookie syncing and loading heavy ads on the page, which we know is bad for the environment,” he said.

The problems associated with user consent, browser restrictions and regulations all come back to the mass proliferation of data. This obsession that more data must mean more value also harms the environment. One solution is to work directly with publishers, which would cut out a lot of these problems and be good for responsibility as a whole.

Mathew Rance, Head of Commercial Data at Immediate Media Co

Prioritizing sustainability

Rance admits that Immediate Media is continually being pushed on sustainability, including facing requests for details of the company’s long-term strategy. “It’s a good thing but also a big challenge,” he said. “We’re still reliant on open exchange-style revenue, which is where the biggest problem lies. Long-term shifts in strategy are needed across the industry to address this.

It’s unlikely we’re going to be able to switch off open exchange. It’s too big a revenue source. But we have reduced it as an overall percentage of our revenue.

Mathew Rance, Head of Commercial Data at Immediate Media Co

The Responsible Web Roadshow is a series of Permutive-owned events, created in response
to increasing privacy regulations around the responsible use of data. The roadshow aims
to help publishers stay ahead of regulatory disruption and find out how to drive revenue
from data responsibly.