‘We want publishers to think the unthinkable’: How Axel Springer is reducing its reliance on Google ad tech

Axel Springer is on a mission to cut down on its dependence on Google ad tech — and it’s making progress.

In January, the German digital media giant, owner of Business Insider, Bild and other titles, completed the shift from its former waterfall-based ad tech stack used with Google in favor of using AppNexus as its ad server, into which it can plug in a variety of demand partners (including Google). It’s a strategy it began last spring. The result: Programmatic revenues rose 10 percent compared to the same period last year, while eCPMs jumped 28 percent. The publisher won’t disclose what percentage of its digital ad revenue comes from programmatically bought ads.

Axel Springer is pleased by the revenue jump, but it’s also looking at the overall benefit of being less beholden to Google’s ad technology developments and agendas — and to gain more transparency over the programmatic bidding process. With its new setup, it can still benefit from Google demand, but is more in control of any changes it wants to make to its programmatic strategy. Axel Springer now wants to encourage other publishers that are concerned they’re also overreliant on Google technologies to follow suit. Two weeks ago, Axel Springer published a white paper showing the nuts and bolts of what changes it made and why, with an eye toward encouraging other European publishers to take similar steps.

“The strategic objective is to get more independence from Google’s technology and have full transparency on how our mediation works,” said Carsten Schwecke, chief digital officer of Axel Springer’s sales house Media Impact. “With this white paper, we want to motivate other publishers to think the unthinkable: that there is some life and independence around Google technology.”

Axel Springer attributes the programmatic revenue increase to the introduction of header bidding to all inventory and shift to first-price auctions, of which the company wants to increase its use. One of the biggest gains of the new setup: Axel Springer now has access to log-level data, so it can see a huge amount of data relating to every impression, such as which buyers are bidding, what they’re bidding on, when and at what rates. That’s given it a big transparency boost on its inventory and core knowledge about how buyers are bidding.

That goal toward getting more control over its digital ad transactions is more urgent, thanks to the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation, according to Schwecke. Google’s GDPR updates position it as a co-controller of data. That’s caused some amount of heartburn with publishers across Europe.

“All the German publishers were surprised by Google over the statement on March 23 about the co-controller intent [for the GDPR] — no one was informed beforehand. It is right now a take-it-or-leave-it approach,” said Schwecke. “Google is saying to publishers to reject or stop [running] personalized ads unless they have the opt-ins from Google. Facebook is getting all the blame currently, but Google is the one to watch — they are very smart. Their policy concerning opt-ins and working as a prerequisite for opt-ins for personalized ads, and if you [publishers] don’t comply, they say you may lose your open auction revenue, which is significant for publishers. This is once again a clear signal of market dominance in the digital advertising market.”

Google has said it is not its intention to stand between publishers and their users. “Under existing EU law, Google already requires publishers and advertisers to get consent from their end users for the use of our advertising services on their websites. We’re asking our partners to refine the way they get consent for the use of Google’s services on their sites, in line with GDPR guidance,” said a Google spokesperson.


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