Does Quality Content Matter in Digital Advertising?

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Following the Super Bowl and amid the magic of the Olympics, I am always struck by the tectonic shifts we have seen over the past two decades in the business of media and advertising. These events, and their underwriting advertisers, epitomize the nostalgia of families gathered around one video platform, enjoying a moment of unified engagement. Yes, I'm referring to the buzzword-laden version of “family TV night.”

The value of media to advertisers has historically been measured by the quality of audience and the quality of content. But, content production and distribution no longer requires a corporate entity to make an impact. The value that media delivers to the advertiser is contingent on audience, and depth of engagement. We can measure these attributes very efficiently, and ROI has become standardized. 

Social media offers more inventory, with deeper audience data than “traditional” publisher offerings – even when social media companies (quite famously of late) are currently not responsible for vetting the content published on their platforms. For advertisers, social media offers strong engagement and extreme influence. What social media cannot produce at adequate scale, however, is targeted adjacency to vetted editorial content.

Today, audience access is commoditized and pushing rates-per-view down, while the advertising value of “quality” is currently impossible to measure at scale. Wide audience for a publisher or platform enables more data-driven, efficient targeting. Publishers need user volume to effectively achieve multiple niche audiences.

In addition to audience, automated media buying allows us to see the relative value of target consumers. What is the advertiser “value” of a middle-income mom of two? She may buy a lot of condiments. Since condiments have become commoditized, companies selling those items need shoppers to care about their brand to avoid price as the only core driver of consumer preference. So, the middle-income mom of two could be of great value to the Fortune 500 producers of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise.

At the same time, advancements in technology make it easier for advertisers to buy media without multiple human intermediaries. They don't need to pay the publisher to show them the data; they pay the ad-tech solution instead. However, publishers need to invest in resources and tools that serve their audiences efficiently, and that investment is shouldered by the publisher. 

This evolving access to audience, along with new practices in media transactions, leaves the publisher with less value perception. If advertisers only place value in audience, and can reach them through Facebook at a much-reduced CPM and the strongest targeting capabilities, what is the publisher's role in delivering value to the advertiser?

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