Started with fanfare, Oath never stood a chance, ad execs say
Just a year and a half after it launched Oath, Verizon will replace it with Verizon Media Group at the start of the year. The company’s head, Guru Gowrappan, revealed earlier this week that the latest attempt to kickstart the beleaguered media business launches on Jan. 8 just two months after Verizon told investors its value had plummeted.
Below are the five issues that spurred the company’s demise and the subsequent opportunities they open up for Verizon Media Group.
Oath’s ad tech was limited
Ad buyers want simplified ways to buy more media, which Oath never quite understood, according to the seven ad executives interviewed for this article. Buying ads across the various properties was spread across several ad technologies like the Brightroll and Adap.TV demand-side platform up until September when the business consolidated all those properties into Oath Ad Platforms division. But the rebranded ad tech stack still didn’t give ad buyers one unified alternative to buy ads.
As one ad buyer said on condition of anonymity out of concern over reprisal from Oath: “Oath unified the comms around the ad tech stack but didn’t do the same for the actual technologies.
The lack of cohesion has been exacerbated by the emergence of Amazon’s own DSP and the ongoing sophistication of players like The Trade Desk and Critero, all of which were far more likely to end up on media plans in 2017 than Oath’s tech, said the executives. Verizon has tried to address those issues. In the blog post for the launch date of Verizon Media Group, Gowrappan highlighted its renewed focus on the “unified ad platforms”, which now allow advertisers to to buy video, display, mobile and native ads through one single DSP. Time will tell whether the response is too late to make a difference.
Oath never gave ad buyers enough reasons to spend with it
When Oath launched in 2017, it was touted as a hub of brands like AOL.com and Techcrunch that generated more monthly unique visitors than Google. Targeting those users would’ve been enriched by data from Verizon’s deep well of subscribers in the U.S., but it never amounted to something large enough to convince advertisers to buy more ads from Oath. In Europe, Oath didn’t even have Verizon’s data as part of the pitch as the telecommunications business doesn’t have a presence in the region.
It meant that there was a lack of unique data the business could share with advertisers beyond email data, said one agency executive who spoke on condition of anonymity. But even if there was more to the pitch, the sales team hadn’t done enough to sell it to ad buyers, said one executive at an independent media agency. Indeed, there was still much confusion among agencies over whether Oath was a publisher, ad tech vendor or a hybrid 19 months after it launched.
“The team would rather take the easy money off the table from previous relationships rather than get out there and build new ones,” said the agency executive. There was never a clear reason for why advertising on Oath was different to other platforms, the executive continued.
More advertisers started to dictate what ad tech they work with
Part of the reason Oath executives hadn’t been seen at agencies may have been because they were trying to meet with marketers who wanted more control of the ad tech buying their ads. The business expanded its client team after it launched to cater to those needs, but marketers couldn’t get their heads around the pitch, said an ad tech consultant, who spoke to Digiday on condition of anonymity.
A deck that had been presented to advertisers earlier this year focused on the volume of impressions its properties could offer, for example. It struggled, however, to show the value of those impressions, which the consultant’s client was more interested in. As another agency executive explained: “No senior marketer would put their neck on the line to build an ad tech stack around Oath’s properties. It has too many first-generation digital properties that have struggled to keep up with more innovative offers from Amazon or Google. No marketer is going to lose their job for buying more tech from those businesses, whereas they could if it was Oath.”
Oath suffered amid pressure on media agencies
It’s harder for agencies to recommend certain media owners to advertisers now there’s so much scrutiny over where ads are bought. That new reality has pushed properties like Oath, whether it was its sites or ad tech, further down the pecking order, agreed the executives interviewed for this article. “Agencies have got to a point where they can no longer convince their clients to use software that isn’t current,” said one executive. A former senior marketer expanded on the point: Agencies must play where the clients want in this new world of transparency.”
It’s an issue that contributed to the “increased competitive and market pressures” the company flagged as the reason it sought a $4.6 billion write-down on the business, which effectively cut its valuation in half.
A cautious approach to the General Data Protection Regulation may have done more harm than good
Oath took an aggressive stance to complying with the GDPR with an extensive set of features. The approach limited the number of third-party tools advertisers could used to track audiences across Oath’s sites, according to four agency executives, who cut their spend as a result of not being able to do some of the more sophisticated targeting they had done prior to the regulation’s arrival. “It meant that ad buyers who were using other GDPR-compliant tools that weren’t part of Oath’s framework could not target people across its properties,” said one executive. Another executive added: “We were using Oath’s platform loads to buy ads but have to cut back because we can’t track properly.” Oath’s compliance with the GDPR mirrored IAB Europe Transparency & Consent Framework, which it helped create.
This article was amended on Dec. 20. An earlier version gave the incorrect role of Oath’s consent management platform. The error has been corrected.
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