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Publishers assess Amazon’s role in their post-cookie ad businesses

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Amazon is making a bigger play for publishers in the post-third-party cookie ad market by offering to connect the dots between media companies’ first-party contextual data and its own transaction data as a retailer.

Dotdash Meredith and Reach plc both have signed deals with Amazon within the last four months to test out this extension of their contextual data while other publishers still mull their options. And while the access to retailer data is attractive for publishers, those who really stand to benefit are those that have established contextual data in their cookie-pocalypse preparedness plans and have a surplus of that first-party data at the ready.

Dotdash Meredith used Amazon’s shopping data to identify which content on its sites were more likely to lead to purchases, said Jon Roberts, chief innovation officer at Dotdash Meredith. “Once you learn that, you can run a campaign against all of the content that is a great predictor of purchase, [which also] allows you to unlock retail targeting on iOS — [an] immediate increase in scale and it outperformed just cookies alone,” he said.

The industry has had glimmers of Amazon’s desires to get into the cookie race. The Trade Desk and Amazon’s Amazon Web Services business – two major demand-side platform owners – announced a partnership at Cannes 2022 and was significant as the e-commerce giant attempted to step up its growth in the online ad market. In April 2023, it subsequently announced updates regarding enhanced integration between its clean room (Amazon Marketing Cloud) and its own demand-side platform that lets advertisers plug their own first-party data into its buying tool.

Dotdash Meredith was the first digital publisher to join the Amazon Publisher Cloud, which launched in October, as a complement to Amazon’s DSP. As part of this, Dotdash Meredith’s contextual targeting tool D/Cipher plugs into Amazon’s DSP and pairs the publisher’s contextual insights with Amazon’s audience data, making those cookieless segments available to any advertiser using the Amazon DSP.

Reach, a U.K.-based publisher that owns OK! and Mirror, announced its deal with Amazon on Monday to share the contextual data collected via its contextual targeting tool Mantis. It similarly shows advertisers the content that high-intent audiences consume to help them place ads more intentionally.

During Amazon’s AWS Publishing Symposium on Tuesday in Manhattan, publishers in attendance said that the opportunities to enhance their contextual targeting’s accuracy via Amazon’s audience data was appealing, but it wasn’t something that they were currently doing. 

“It’d be huge to be able to get and transact on a lot of that data,” said a publisher exec at the event who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They said that their team is currently in talks with Amazon to assess the contextual targeting opportunities.

Another publisher exec in attendance at the AWS Publishing Symposium said, “we’re trying to understand how their purchase signals align with our content. What publishers have is purchasing [intent] – we think someone went and left our site [to buy something]. Amazon’s now giving us the actual data back and they’re just giving it back to us at the content level, not the user level.” 

This content-level reporting would allow the publisher to go to an advertiser like Purina, as an example, and say, not only are people buying dog food after reading pet-related content, but they’re also coming from running-related content because they exercise with their pets. “Now we can start to make non-intuitive signals,” said the second pub exec.

Overall, contextual targeting as a first-party data strategy was the highlight of the first panel at the event, which discussed extracting value from first-party data. For a retail giant like Amazon, leveraging this focus in its pitches to publishers will be notable to watch to see if it helps win new deals as third-party cookies gradually deteriorate this year.

Ronan Shields contributed to this report.

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