The collapse of the cookie heightens interest in brand-uplift studies

Publishers are seeing growing demand from agencies and advertisers to measure digital ad campaigns with brand-uplift studies since Google announced its attack on the third-party cookie back in February.

Along with other ad mechanics, third-party cookies let advertisers identify cross-site attribution to understand whether people seeing an ad ultimately took an action. Multitouch attribution and cross-site tracking will only get harder as Chrome denigrates third-party cookies and regulators tighten up on consent-gaining practices. This has led advertisers back to old-school measurement methods like surveys and panels.

“We definitely have the view that this will increase in the next six months or so,” said Bedir Aydemir, head of audience and data, commercial, at News UK. “These types of studies are hard to do … most companies still don’t have a multi-touchpoint attribution system in place.”

For larger campaigns like branded content partnerships over £200,000 ($250,000), publishers often offer pre-and post-campaign analysis. These brand uplift studies — identifying changes in metrics like brand awareness, consideration, favorability and intent to purchase — show campaign effectiveness beyond performance. Advertisers are requesting more of these studies for campaigns of any size as attributing performance solely on clicks is falling out of fashion.

“If you are going to do brand-based campaigns then you need to measure brand-based KPIs,” said Aydemir. “I think most publishers are quite excited about the prospect of being able to prove the impact they can have, especially in the mid-funnel.”

One challenge publishers face is the cost. Research companies often charge up to £30,000 ($37,500) for a brand uplift study. In some cases, the study costs more than the campaign, said Prash Naidu CEO of tech provider Rezonence, which works with publishers on monetizing content through free-wall or registration messages.

“A lot of advertisers and agencies push that cost on to publishers,” said one publishing executive, “while it’s great to prove our efficiency, for smaller campaigns it’s not cost-effective to do that study.”

Publishers have long faced an uphill battle in proving to time-poor agency media planners that they can deliver effective campaign results relative to Google and Facebook, which are no match in terms of scale and targeting. Publishers are making more use of retargeted on-site surveys and more advanced panels that can do both declared exposed and more robust ‘tracked exposed’ studies to show campaign effectiveness.

“People will be looking at panels more and more as an insight resource,” said Adriana Tailor, head of audience data and insight at TI Media.

To be clear, this trend of more brand-based studies was already underway before Google’s cookie announcement, as publishers and advertisers have slowly swung away from performance-only digital campaigns. Research is normally used as an added value to a campaign or used with other measures to give a rounded overview of results and inform future planning and data strategy and targeting. But Google’s announcement has added urgency.

“In the space of a week or two we had five inbound requests calling us up for brand uplifts studies,” said Naidu. “No one had reached out to us about that before, we never went to market saying ‘this is what we do.'”

Parenting forum Netmums has run four targeted on-site surveys for consumer-goods clients this year on campaigns costing over £30,000 ($37,500) as a way to bump up campaign size. Clients use the survey to ask audiences about their competitors, said Bal Singh, programmatic sales director, UK, at Netmums. One client has already doubled last year’s spend with the publisher this month, largely due to this research.

“Because of the scale we can knock out 30,000 [responses] in a week,” he said, “clients have been really excited about it.” Some studies from research companies, which offer a much more comprehensive analysis, cost £5,000 ($6,200) for 150 respondents, making it seem more prohibitive for smaller campaigns. Another sticking point is research companies are still mostly based on third-party tracking and targeting.

“There’s a degree of error in there,” said Singh, “they don’t know if people have seen the same ad five or 10 times.”

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