Google coached Mondelez to build first-party data. Now the CPG brand is poised to spend even more in its walled garden


Mondelez, the manufacturer of some of the world’s best-selling snack brands like Cadbury chocolate, Oreos and Ritz Crackers, has increased and consolidated its digital ad spending with the world’s largest digital media sellers including Google.

With a focus on building out its first-party data and targeting specific audience segments inside the walled gardens of the top platforms, Mondelez saw the tracking limitations Google announced in early March as right in line with its own strategy.

“I think our Google spend has gone up 60% in the last two years,” Jon Halvorson, global vp of consumer experience at Mondelez, told Digiday without revealing exact spend figures. “It was just a tangible choice. They could better execute against our personalized marketing agenda.”

Much of that agenda is focused on first-party data. “We see first-party data as an opportunity to learn more about what our consumers want, which is core to a snacking company,” said Halvorson, who joined Mondelez in 2018 following media strategy stints at Twitter, GM and Starcom.

While CPG brands historically have little insight into the people who actually buy their products, Google representatives have coached companies such as Mondelez over the past few years to invest in first-party data strategies, said Halvorson. So, changes Google announced on March 3 align with the moves Mondelez has made toward generating more first-party data and tracking consumer snacking behavior at a more granular level, he said.

Google will limit targeting in its ad exchange to aggregated audience cohorts-based methods. But the company will continue to allow advertisers to match their own customer data to Google’s first-party data to target or measure campaigns inside Google-owned inventory, such as in search and YouTube.

Along with its head of marketing consumer data and its IT team, Mondelez works with data management firm MightyHive to generate, analyze and take action on its first-party data. Google’s decisions could have less impact on Mondelez than other types of companies, such as direct-response advertisers that buy ads intended to directly lead to product purchases, said Tyler Pietz, evp of global data at MightyHive.

“The implications [of Google’s tracking changes] for Mondelez are much less substantial than, let’s say, specifically an e-commerce retailer or an insurance company or an auto manufacturer,” he said. For Mondelez, he added, “Their primary goal is building equity over time, which means they are much less reliant on highly transactional use cases for paid media than other sectors are.”

Consolidating spend to walled garden platforms
Mondelez has worked closely in the past with Google’s analytics team to devise audience segments for campaign targeting, said Halvorson. “An Oreo campaign will literally have hundreds of thousands of segments,” he said, noting that, because of Google’s massive audience base, the company can deliver sliced and diced audiences at scale.

Google’s decision to stop recognizing third-party cookies in its popular Chrome browser and its latest announcement to solidify its move away from individual-level behavioral tracking in outside companies’ ad inventory has many publishers and ad tech firms worried about the future vitality of the open web. But Mondelez is on board with the seemingly unstoppable wave of advertiser dollars flowing toward the walled gardens of large digital platforms — where consumers are often logged in and authenticated — and away from the open web.

In addition to simplifying its agency structure, starting in 2017 Mondelez began narrowing the number of media partners it works with from 150 media vendors to just 10 — most of them walled garden platforms, according to Halvorson.

In fact, the company has “clear strategies” for reducing the amount of money it spends to advertise outside of the walled garden platforms, he said, noting that Mondelez has increased spending on Amazon, Google, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter in the last three years. He did not give exact figures.

Mondelez does want to use Google to reach aggregated audiences using Google’s cohort targeting, Halvorson said. He told Digiday the global joint business plan it put together with Google for 2021 includes cohort-based targeting. “We have those cohorts that are built into this year’s [joint business plan],” he said. “There were some areas [in the plan] where we’ll very much be testing some of these new approaches.” He did not share details on exactly what areas were planned to involve cohort testing.

Fostering dialogues, not impressions
Gathering details about people who buy Wheat Thins or Halls Lozenges and why isn’t easy. “Because most of the company’s sales are generated through retailers, people who buy [Mondelez] products do not have an endemic reason to visit their brands’ sites and apps,” said Pietz.

So, Mondelez is creating ad content and owned media across sites and apps with the help of MightyHive’s sibling creative production firm MediaMonks to build loyalty among the people who do actually connect, not only to build first-party data but to hone how it communicates with its broader consumer base, he said.

For instance, Mondelez aims to generate more engagement with people by increasing the functionality of its branded digital media and taking advantage of partnerships such as large sports events. “Everything starts with a question of ‘how do we turn this into a sustained dialogue,” Pietz said, “to use paid media as a vehicle to initialize a longer-term relationship versus just stopping with an ephemeral moment like an impression.’”

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