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The Hidden World of Performance Advertising at Household Publishers
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The Hidden World of Performance Advertising at Household Publishers

Gaining commission for every click, lead or sale driven via an ad is the bread and butter of affiliate publishers around the world. Advertisers can head to the site of a Quidco or similar and gain a detailed roadmap of exactly how they can get involved with a performance-based campaign along with a few snippets on why they should. 

But when considering publishers in a more traditional sense - your Daily Mails, Telegraphs - finding out who offers performance advertising and who doesn’t becomes a little more complex. 

Some of the bigger, most prominent and recognised names in publishing have pounced on the opportunity of online content hosting. Without hesitation, they’ve seen a chance to use their audience’s digital migration as a remedy to ailing print revenues.

It’s no surprise to see their millions of readers helping things along in the way of earnings from impression-based display, and long may this continue. However, a clear, coherent explanation of performance advertising options, or a statement confirming their absence, is often nowhere to be seen.

PerformanceIN conducted a brief swoop down over four household names in publishing to assess their performance credentials, and this is what we found. 

The Guardian

Site launched: 1999
Monthly audience: 90 million unique views (current average)

Banners, Super Banners, MPUs and Pop-Ups are all available on the Guardian’s website, sold on a CPM between £30 - £50 as booked as run of network. There are tailored offerings available; the most notable being native ad partnerships akin to the sustainability-focused effort launched by consumer goods brand Unilever last year. The partnership actually garnered much critical acclaim from the advertising world when its seven-figure deal was announced; cited as a good example of publishers generating new, consumer-friendly streams of revenue

Performance, however, doesn’t enter the frame. A spokesperson at the site confirmed that Guardian’s advertising options run solely on a cost-per-thousand-impressions model, meaning the publisher does not obtain any extra revenue from clicks, sales or leads driven from their ads. 

Still, the overriding feeling is that performance may not be necessary at the moment. Digital revenues at Guardian Media Group hit £70 million in the year ending March 2014, rising 25% from a base point of £55 million. 

Time Inc.

Site launched: 1993 for the group’s ‘Pathfinder’ website, the first of the Time family to make it online 
Monthly audience: N/A

The Time Inc. badge has become something of a coveted asset for tech providers wanting to make a scene about their publisher connections, and the group has plenty of ties to companies in the performance arena.

Take an example from a story that broke at the tail-end of last year. Time Inc. announced that it had struck a lucrative partnership with native ad platform Outbrain for the placement of sponsored content links around its own editorial pieces. The company has signed outlets such as NME, CNN, Slate and ESPN up to a deal which is capped at $100 million, paid in small installments for every click driven to external content recommendations.

The company also has a number of tailored connections to help generate sales for its various partners. Visitors of nme.com are able to use the site as a one-stop shop for music news and tickets thanks to links with vendors such as Viagogo and See Tickets. Murmurs of user unrest over the prices charged by ‘secondary sellers’ are ten to the dozen, but with every click and sale tracked, NME is able to detail its contribution to a partner. 

Viagogo does offer up to 7% commission to affiliates on the back of confirmed sales, but the group did not respond to PerformanceIN’s questions regarding whether the NME partnership followed similar lines.

Daily Mail

Site launched: (In current form) 2009
Monthly audience: 189.5 million unique views (Dec 2014)

Considered the king of clickable content, the Daily Mail made performance marketing headlines back in 2013 when its Fashion Finder programme was launched. Clicks to products in the FF window, similar to those modelled by celebrities, prompts re-directs to listed retail partners such as Amazon on Asos, and the publication has confirmed that its feature still runs on an affiliate model.

Aside from this, Daily Mail is focused very much on its takings from conventional display, opting for CPM rates between £20 - 50 to stay fiercely competitive. Sources close to the group state that it will continue to monetise primarily through this method, meaning the constant flood of social-media friendly stories from Mail Online is unlikely to subside.

The Telegraph

Site launched: 1994 (the first UK newsbrand to do so)
Monthly audience: 24 million unique users (current average, includes mobile and tablet visits)

The Telegraph is another newsbrand focused very much on the display side of things. However, a multi-dimensional approach to connecting advertisers with highly innovative formats is living proof of the progress it has made in generating revenue online.

If the ability to show on sections for fashion, sports and finance isn’t enough, the group’s targeting options allow for pinpointing users according to interests, on-site behaviour and educational backgrounds. Similar luxuries are afforded to the process behind placing ads by content that contains certain keywords, while first-impression targeting ensures that ads make their way onto the first page a user reaches - ideal for attracting passers-by. 

There’s even a self-serve platform for brands and agencies wanting to help themselves, along with pre and post-roll options for video ads. Where performance is concerned, the Telegraph does inform its users about the presence of “contextual affiliate links” from which it may earn revenue. The site’s fashion section has previously being touted as a hub for performance advertisers, with the product recommendations and ‘buy, love, share’ buttons on ‘I-Spied’ suggesting the Telegraph is prepped for building partnerships with e-commerce merchants.

The site does however draw the line at the content of its articles, insisting that on no occasion will the focus or direction of a piece become influenced by “advertisers or an affiliate”.

The conclusion  

With the above considered, it’s pleasing to find that some of the bigger names in publishing have started looking beyond the conventional ad models that some websites have struggled to get by on. The only sour note is that information on performance ad options is not freely available, and big-name advertisers wanting to form direct, performance-based ties with publishers of a similar stature will struggle to find any sort of basic overview without inquiring within.

That’s not to say that advertisers aren’t given a decent enough run-through how they can get their campaigns on a big publisher’s site. Details of display rates, targeting options and regular inventory can be found via the groups’ designated zones for advertisers. But as far as the sites above are concerned, performance language is often reserved for chats away from the website; away from the public eye and sections for primary ad offerings. 

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Got a question or comment – tweet Richard @RichToweyPI or comment on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIN.

Richard Towey

Richard Towey

Richard serves as head of content at PerformanceIN. After many years spent covering developments from the automotive, sports, travel and finance sectors, he eventually turned his full attention to reporting on stories from the fast-evolving world of digital marketing. Richard now heads up the editorial team at PerformanceIN: the performance marketing industry's leading publication.  

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