Nicolas Sennegon, global managing director and chief revenue officer for The Economist, discusses why transparency is part of The Economist’s DNA and why the current viewable impression standard is not transparent.
AAM: Of all the issues facing the media industry—fraud, ad blocking, measurement, automation—which is the most concerning for your organization?
Nicolas Sennegon: I’m not sure one stands on its own, they all have an impact on the industry. They obstruct our progress and interrupt our ability to share content with our readers and our clients’ brands.
Individually, to have a conversation around ad blocking is to have a conversation around quality content and how we deliver that content to platforms. Ad blocking is reinforcing the need for quality content.
Measurement and viewability are really a proxy for audience attention. If your readers can’t remember the content of an ad, you need to understand why.
AAM: What does media transparency mean to your organization?
NS: Transparency is just part of the DNA of The Economist. If you ask your readers and clients to pay for premium content, to pay for the success of The Economist then you need to deliver. We need to make sure our commitment to our readers and to our clients, is fulfilled. For readers, that means having the right platform to engage with them and deliver quality content. For clients, that means measuring and delivering what they buy.
AAM: What work still needs to be done to make viewable impressions the industry currency?
NS: The industry needs a more collective response to the problem. What we have now is an initial industry benchmark and what we need to do to move forward is develop a collective approach. There’s not just one definition of viewability. There was a definition created by the IAB and MRC. Then some of the agencies decided to require 100 percent of the ad in view.
What is the Attention Buy Model?
The attention buy model only charges advertisers for display ad impressions that generate more than five second of active view time. Active view time might mean the user scrolls up and down on a page, types on a keyboard or uses the mouse. Anything below five seconds isn’t classified as meaningful attention. At least half of the ad must be in view, following IAB standards.
The Economist also caps attention at 30 seconds per impression, as explained by Ashwin Sridhar, global head of digital products revenue, in a Digiday article, “If an advertiser has bought an hour of time and there is an infographic featuring a deep dive into some date-immersive content, the user may spend all that time on that one article. The ad then may have been on the screen for 20 minutes, but because of the diminishing return on additional exposure time, we will cap the attention at 30 seconds.”
We don’t believe viewability is transparent because it doesn’t prove attention. We believe an attention buy is transparent. If you tell your clients that an ad has been viewed for X number of hours, that is true transparency and that’s the model we’re focused on.
AAM: Is ad blocking as much of a concern for your organization as it has been portrayed in the news?
NS: The industry needs to acknowledge that we have ad blocking and think about why readers are using it. They’re using it because the advertising experience has become disruptive. As publishers, we need to find out what kind of content they want and deliver it. It’s taking the bold decision to respect and understand the message that they’re sending which is: “I just want the content that I’m looking for.”
We need to be clear and smart about how we put content in front of our audience and make it valuable. Those with ad blockers clearly want it another way. We never want to disrupt the consumer journey. We always ask the question, who is this content made for? Then we build out the relationship with our audience and engage them.
AAM: Are you using any software to track ad blocking on your site? How are you using that data?
NS: We did a quick survey in November to see how many of our online users have installed an ad blocker. Our research indicates about 13 percent of visitors to The Economist have an ad blocker; industry average is 10 to 40 percent. Our reaction is not to panic and not try to stop it. Instead, we try to understand the meaning behind the behavior and give readers what they want. If they’re using an ad blocker, we have clearly not done the way they want. Technology is helping them make a choice and we’re not going to be able to stop it.
AAM: How is the user experience being disrupted by a lack of transparency?
NS: We try to understand our readers’ relationship with news media. We found out that the first platform they engage in is social media; it’s the notification. Then they go to traditional media to get further insight. As they begin to know and understand the granules, they want to create their own content. They take our content, make it their own and inform their peers.
Once we understand why they go to specific platforms and how they use them, we just stick to our DNA and create a brand-specific environment. If you create that quality, brand-specific environment, your audience will be loyal and follow you. We call it follow the reader. But the starting point is the transparency and commitment to your audience. You know your audience trusts your content provided you respect the rules and don’t blur the lines.
Now that we understand our audience and their journey, we link it to the accountability and transparency provided by AAM’s Consolidated Media Report and we provide that information across platforms—print, digital editions, mobile. We provide the CMR to clients to start a conversation about audience and help them develop the journey between their brand and our audience so that our audience and our clients have the best experience possible.
AAM: Could you share any best practices, pointers, advice to build more media industry trust?
NS: The goal is to help brands engage with your audience in a more proactive and creative way. The attention buy model solves the problem of active ad exposure to the reader. The CMR solves measurement and changes the transparency conversation. To solve ad blocking, keep your readers happy and engaged with quality content.