The slow progress of Portugal’s publisher alliance shows limits of united fronts vs the duopoly

There’s a thinking in Europe, home to more of a cooperative spirit and looser antitrust laws than the U.S., that publishers must band together to combat the power of Facebook and Google. But publisher alliances have proved difficult to execute.

Look no further than Portugal, a comparatively small market. Portugal publishers’ attempt to fight back against the dominance of the duopoly, publisher alliance Project Nonio, is running its first ad campaign following a slow start. It’s taken two years since it was announced.

The six participating media companies, Impresa, Global Media, Cofina, Media Capital, Publico and Renascença, announced the alliance two years ago as an alternative ad proposition to Facebook and Google. Since last March, 1.3 million readers from across the media companies’ digital properties have registered their age and gender. While this is valuable user-supplied information, it is still a relatively small proportion of the country’s 6.5 million internet users.

But it is enough to give Nonio the scale to run ad campaigns, starting with a one-month campaign with Procter & Gamble in June.

According to João Paulo Luz, digital director at Impresa, two-thirds of digital advertising spend in Portugal goes to Google and Facebook. The duopoly has the benefit of huge scale and granular targeting options making them a regular staple on many media plans. Publishers are trying to claw back more ad revenue while advertisers are looking for alternatives that may not beat the platforms at scale but are more guaranteed environments.

“Being overly dependent on one thing is never very good,” said Carolina Veiga, marketing leader at P&G Portugal. “When you have this much investment on two players and then you have a problem like brand safety, then you have a bit of an issue. Diversity is very good. We’re very proud that [Nonio] is 100% led by Portuguese local media vendors. The beauty of this project is they are competitors, they realize they can be stronger together.”

Portugal is a small market so advertisers can typically test different media channels while still reaching the majority of the audience in the region. The six media companies reach 85% of the country’s population.

But Nonio’s data targeting capabilities are still in their infancy. It offers four targeting categories: male, female, under 25 years old and over 25 years old. P&G is running a month-long ad campaign. Four of its brands are targeted to each category: aftershave brand Old Spice (male, under 25), Gillette (male, over 25), Venus (female, under 25), Pantene (female, over 25).

“We wanted to start broad, making sure that these were not too narrow segments,” said Luz. “We know that when we put in very narrow segments we should increase the price, but that’s not easy to do overnight. If people are used to €3 ($3.37) CPMs they don’t want to pay us €10 ($11.23).”

For now, slim targeting capabilities aren’t a deterrent for P&G, and Nonio is still defining future audience segments with input from media buyers.

A benefit of this top-line level targeting is that it makes it easier for advertisers to clearly see what they are buying. On Facebook and Google, it’s less obvious why people are being shown the ads they are, said Luz. Nonio plans to continue this commitment to transparency as it builds out audience segments through its data management platform Cxense.

But as for scale, Nonio is not as far along as expected. Most of the stalling blocks have been figuring out the technical infrastructure. But there have been external factors that haven’t helped either. Apple’s anti-tracking update, which blocks third-party cookies by default, has hampered Nonio’s ability to grow its numbers. After a few sessions, people who access through Apple’s operating system are being automatically logged out and have to re-enter details. Apple’s operating system accounts for 24% of the mobile operating system market share in Portugal, behind Android with 75%, according to Stats Counter.

As such, Nonio has not made registering mandatory yet as it had planned to. Instead, people are promoted after reading two or three articles.

“Our promise was that people only need to log-in once,” said João Paulo Luz, digital director at Impresa. “When you are in-app it’s easier to guarantee the stability of the log-in than in browser environments.”

Nonio is looking for a technical solution that will have the same outcome using a different process than cookies to track who has registered.

Whether Nonio succeeds in clawing back some of the ad spend that is being funneled into Google and Facebook will depend on the results of P&G’s campaign. For the last few years, P&G has had its sights on being the first to test Nonio. It’s keeping a close eye on performance which will then inform how much more it will invest in Nonio.

“We’re obsessed with monitoring every metric,” said Veiga. “With regards to the local publishers, quality KPIs are a bit better than international players.” The advertiser is tracking campaign results like reach plus ad quality measures like fraud and viewability. So far, Veiga is happy with the outcome, although wouldn’t share campaign performance details. According to Luz, the campaign has reached over 500,000 people and is on track to make its goal of 1.3 million by the end of July.

Three other campaigns are on the horizon, although Luz couldn’t share the advertisers. Nonio has a minimum price of €50,000 ($56,000). It charges a 30% premium on the CPM market price.

Ultimately, working with local partners also fosters more stable relationships.

“When we are taking with Impresa or Media Capital or other publishers, we can start from scratch,” said Carmen Brizida, client service director at Carat, P&G’s media agency. “We can have specific communications and projects designed for this specific process. When we have an issue with Facebook, we need to go to Ireland.”

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