Media buyers don’t want to pay extra for publishers’ first-party data

first party data

Amid the early stages of cookie deprecation, media buyers aren’t quite sold yet on the premiums that some publishers are placing on their first-party audience data and contextual targeting solutions.

One publisher who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that they usually charge at least $2 on top of their standard CPMs for their first-party data or contextual targeting capabilities, slightly higher than the $1.50 premium they saw about a year ago. Certain categories, like entertainment and luxury, are fetching an even higher premium, they said. 

But that is a tough sell to make to media buyers. 

“With ongoing cookie deprecation, there has not been an increase [in the premiums for publishers’ first-party data or contextual targeting]. It has always been a premium of 0-10% and that remains true now,” said an agency buyer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

“You don’t want to spend more money on data than you’re spending in actual media,” said Holly Dunn, evp of digital investment and biddable media lead at Havas. Before she buys any publisher first-party data, she said it’s heavily scrutinized to see how the data was compiled to make sure that it’s privacy-compliant and publishers have the appropriate rights to sell the data. 

Dunn added that starting at a $2 premium on a CPM can be very expensive depending on the category and the advertisers’ budget. Internally her team has set baselines for what they’re willing to pay for data. 

The first publisher said their company is trying to move away from the CPM narrative when it comes to their first-party data products and reframe these capabilities as tools for high-impact campaigns. 

“If an advertiser just cares about a [direct-response] goal … it doesn’t necessarily always make sense to apply [first-party audience data] … you can identify an audience that will take that action, but to identify it is expensive … And then that offsets [an advertisers’ goal of finding the lowest CPM],” said the first publisher. 

The publisher continued that they’re rolling out new data tools that require a minimum spend well into the six-figures because creating these custom audience segments are expensive, but are also “really accurate,” which adds value. 

Moving away from a CPM-first pricing model makes sense, according to Briian Wilson, vp of media acquisitions at Epsilon. “Publishers are more concerned about how much they’re going to be able to earn, how much of their inventory they’re going to be able to monetize without jeopardizing audience experience, versus just a CPM number,” she said. 

However, Dunn said that her team won’t consider a publisher’s first-party data product if it requires a minimum spend because they require testing the offerings in smaller capacity before committing to a large scale campaign relying on one publisher’s data set.

Not all boats rise

Not all publishers have seen cookie deprecation lead to an increase in CPMs for their first-party data, however. A second publisher who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that they’ve been primarily reliant on direct-sold advertising that’s based on their first-party data for nearly two years and there hasn’t been any significant increases to those CPMs within the last year.    

A third publisher who spoke anonymously said that their company hasn’t increased the premium cost of first-party data or contextual targeting on a CPM basis, but the natural progression of the type of campaign a client is buying (like PMP vs. a custom campaign) will increase costs to the advertiser, with the latter offering incorporating more data.

What has changed recently within client conversations, they said, is that advertisers are asking about first-party data and contextual targeting capabilities much earlier on in the sales process, alongside questions about audience size and demographics. 

“It’s a great value position, because I think before you had a lot of ad tech companies that would put up all the logos of all the publishers they work with, and they talk about the access to their inventory, but I think what you find there is they actually don’t have these data points that agencies and buyers are asking for [anymore],” the third publisher said. 

“Where I struggle is when data starts to become like 50% or more of the actual total media spend. Or when you’re paying a premium on top and you’re not really seeing the additional value-add in terms of performance. If you’re paying a 20% premium for data and you don’t see a 20% improvement in audience quality, then it’s not worth paying,” said Dunn. 

When asked if she often experiences a scenario where the premiums outweigh the lift in performance, Dunn said yes. “A premium audience is only good if that audience responds and reacts to an advertiser’s campaign.” 

When will buyers pay the premium?

As cookie deprecation carries on, some expect that eventually prices will tip in favor of publishers’ audience data or contextual targeting. But it will depend upon which cookie alternative buyers decide to hedge their bets. 

The first media buyer, for instance, is likely not going to be betting on publisher data as a primary replacement for the third-party cookies. “We do not anticipate an increase [in CPMs for publisher data] because there are additional cookieless solutions that span across all media buys, compared with publishers’ first-party data solutions, which can only be used on their own inventory.” 

And given the fact that the majority of advertisers and buyers are still relying on cookies while they can, Dunn said only time will tell how CPMs change for publishers’ first-party data and contextual targeting capabilities.  

“Data is going to be table stakes for a lot of businesses and the [publishers] that are going to win are going to be the ones that have high-quality data and they make their data portable and accessible without limitations. Companies that are trying to [set] minimum ad spends around [their data] are not going to be the ones that are going to win.”

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