Advertising Guest Columns
5 mins read

Publishers must up their value exchange with their audience

Regardless of the whims of Google and its timeline for Chrome cookie deprecation, many publishers are already in the midst of transitioning their advertising strategy to adapt to the post-IDFA, post-cookie marketplace. In fact, our recent publisher survey found that more than three-quarters of publishers have already started working on addressability solutions, with 36% having spent more than a year on the task. With a lot of focus on email addresses and unique user ID solutions, publishers now have an opportunity to start fresh and build a new kind of relationship with their audiences – as there is a clear opportunity for the industry to communicate and educate consumers about the value exchange that they’re being asked to opt-in to.  

Despite the overwhelming effort put out by the publisher community, there are major roadblocks to getting started. Namely, scaling their PII database and ID-based solutions to support their entire programmatic business. Right now, our report shows that they’re leaning heavily on omnichannel technology partners to lead the way. This isn’t completely surprising, as the technology partners have, by definition, a focus on technology that will help lay the foundation for ingesting data, managing multiple IDs, mitigating cross-device redundancies, and creating flexibility to aggregate this hodge-podge into a viable business. 

But, beyond the right tech lies a deeper problem, and that’s the problem of forging a lasting, quality relationship with audiences in order to stay ahead of challenges like scale, privacy regulations, ID blocking, and opt-in and opt-out requirements. “Ads for free content” is no longer enough. Sue Hogan, SVP of Research and Analytics at the IAB recently noted, “To put it bluntly, the old value exchanges just aren’t enough. The model is broken. Publishers and media companies have to reimagine reciprocity or risk the flight of consumers to competitors.” The solution is to create a better value exchange.  

A Time for Soul Searching 

Many publishers have bandied about the phrase “value exchange” for ages. It’s used to explain why people would pay for a subscription, download an app, or sign up for newsletters. Many publishers have a sense of the value they bring to their audience but aren’t exactly sure just when or where to ask for more user data. They risk losing their audience if they simply guess. 

A poll can help to some degree, but so can an analysis of user behavior to see where engagement, repeat visits and even ad performance are highest. Some publishers will find that their value lies in their local news, or long-form videos, while others may see that product reviews are their highest-value content. A/B testing small hurdles, such as asking people to answer a single low-value survey question, can help see which parts of the site are most resistant to these hurdles and therefore most likely to be good placements for data collection in the future. 

Set Up a More Overt Value Exchange

Some publisher value exchanges are already overt. Food52 actively combines content and commerce, which immediately turns their reader base into a data-rich customer base. And subscriptions bring in a lot of data, a focus for sites like The New York Times. Of course, these are outliers today. The vast majority of US internet users don’t have to go through any kind of value exchange on most publisher pages that they visit. They simply go to a website or app and do what they want. And they aren’t very excited to opt in to allow something they don’t have to, which is why Apple’s IDFA unique opt-in rate on IOS 14.5 is reportedly in the single digits.  

Publishers must push on, creating more value, or finding better ways to collect data.  Creating new value exchanges is hard. But, using the results from a site audit can get publishers off to a good start. Once the “when and where” are discovered, it’s time to get creative about “how” the value exchange is created. The answer is often more practical than arcane. For example, PBS creates a value exchange with their Passport program, providing access to extra content to donors who opt-in, creating a data-rich environment within their larger business.  

If publishers focus on their most valuable assets, they can set up a “trade” with their audience. One of the most effective advertising formats is the “opt-in value exchange” ad. Common on mobile gaming apps among other places, they allow app users to decide if they want to watch a video or answer a question in order to earn something of value in the game. It’s totally obvious why the app developer is asking for the user to see the ad (or enter some info). The user is in control of their decision and understands the pros and cons. And, most importantly, ad performance is actually quite high despite the “captive” nature of the user.  

“Micro-value-exchanges” can also help make up the difference. PII is not the only valuable type of data publishers can collect. Like Amazon, which recommends products based on recent searches, publishers can start building profiles based on contextual, search and other inference data even for anonymous users.  

Right now, publishers are focused on implementing the technical capabilities required to continue programmatic advertising without third-party cookies or mobile identifiers. This is good news as the relationship publishers have with their audience, and the approach they take to data collection, is what will create long-term success, but it’s only a piece of a bigger puzzle. The ability to grow that audience and create a real value exchange requires transparency and focus on a common goal across a publisher’s ecosystem. Publishers should lean into talks with their partners now to ensure they are aligned to gain not just near-term revenue performance but long-term value as well. 

Susan Wu
Sr. Director Marketing Research, PubMatic


PubMatic, Inc. (Nasdaq: PUBM) delivers superior revenue to publishers by being a sell-side platform of choice for agencies and advertisers. The PubMatic platform empowers independent app developers and publishers to maximize their digital advertising monetization while enabling advertisers to increase ROI by reaching and engaging their target audiences in brand-safe, premium environments across ad formats and devices. Since 2006, PubMatic has created an efficient, global infrastructure and remains at the forefront of programmatic innovation. PubMatic operates 14 offices and eight data centers worldwide.