Ekstra Bladet prepares for a privacy-centric advertising ecosystem

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


As the traditional ad tech ecosystems disappear, publishers are tasked with creating a privacy-centric advertising ecosystem that’s built for the future.

During Wednesday’s INMA Webinar, Thomas Lue Lytzen, director of ad sales and technology for Denmark’s Ekstra Bladet, provided insight into how to build a more privacy-centric ecosystem. He provided the roadmap for publishers looking to create such an ecosystem. (For those wanting to know more, Ekstra Bladet is a stop on the September INMA study tour during Media Innovation Week in Copenhagen.)

Lytzen took on the question of what privacy-centric really means. In Europe, this has been a topic of discussion for months, including considering the ban of targeted advertising completely. Opponents call it “surveillance capitalism” and “surveillance advertising,” but Lytzen said that view of it needs to be balanced with the vendors whose businesses rely and thrive on data. Increasingly, privacy is becoming regulated and standards are increasingly stricter — which is something most publishers find worrying.  

“But we are entering a world where privacy is the default,” he said. “It’s not as we saw it before, where it was tracking by default.”

Following the slow death of tracking

The cookie apocalypse — or the death of tracking, as it’s also called — is about technology “making life harder for advertising,” Lytzen said, which is something that started in 2017 with Apple and its intelligent tracking prevention (ITP). In the 2022 version, third-party cookies are blocked from working in the Safari browser.

A quick look at the timeline of the death of online tracking.
A quick look at the timeline of the death of online tracking.

“In Denmark, that’s an extensive problem because more than 50% of the Web traffic goes through the Safari browser,” he said.

Although the GDPR dates back to 2018, Lytzen said 2020 was the year that changed things for Denmark, when regulations changed and the option for users to say no to tracking had to be included. And, while Google was expected to kill off the third-party cookie by now, that date has moved to 2023.

One final critical component in the death of tracking is the user, which Lytzen acknowledged is often the part that is forgotten or left out: “We tend to forget that if we let our users down and we don’t treat them in the right way, and we take loyalty for granted, then they will leave us at some point. So privacy should be the focal point when handling your relationship with the users.”

From an advertising point of view, this means publishers have to “say bye-bye to profiling, retargeting, attribution, measurement, frequency, and having all the nice tools that we’ve gotten used to having in our toolbox and using for digital campaigns,” he said. “Because if the cookie isn’t there anymore, and if the user objects to the use of data, it’s not just about targeted data for advertising. It’s the very fundamentals of the advertising ecosystem that are actually at stake.”

A new reality

As bleak as this may seem to some publishers, Lytzen assured INMA members that “there is a future” — and it can be a bright one.

“At Ekstra Bladet, we’ve decided that first-party data is the future and third-party will go away. Why encourage the continued use of something that is about to get deprecated?”

To be successful in that future, it’s essential for publishers to find a way to collect that first-party data, and that can be done by developing a one-on-one relationship with users. At Ekstra Bladet, that meant developing Longboat, which has replaced Google Analytics as its main analytics tool. The future for publishers lies in first-party and contextual data, he said, and that depends on being able to provide relevant information for advertisers and agencies.

“That’s the recipe for the first-party data platform that we eventually built,” he said, explaining the features of that platform check all the boxes in terms of privacy and user safety.

Ekstra Bladet's platform includes these eight important features.
Ekstra Bladet's platform includes these eight important features.

In building the platform, which it named Relevance, Lytzen said Ekstra Bladet wanted to provide advertisers with relevant audience context, but it was aware of the need to respect user privacy and safety.

“You need to be very sure that you are actually on the right side of privacy and GDPR and that you are not kind of just using a back door to mix your user’s data with a lot of external data.”

Now, Relevance is used on five sites within the publishing group and has more than 900 active segments with a total of 12 million active cookies. “So there’s quite a bit of data going through that platform every day,” he said.

Lytzen noted it doesn’t charge advertisers for the data but makes it available for free to allow for targeting campaigns — even though that’s something many brands would be willing to pay for.

“But in order for us to become a viable alternative — to Big Tech, to Google, Facebook, and the other platforms — we need to do what they’re doing … to make it just as easy and frictionless. And putting a price on a data segment and audience or context just adds friction to it all.”

With this mindset, he said the company wins by having campaigns that reach a broader audience, thereby getting a bigger slice of the ad spend from agencies: “If you make sure that a campaign reaches its audience, then the probability that this campaign is successful and more successful than other campaigns across the ecosystem is a lot higher.”

The Ekstra Bladet approach

Lytzen shared how Ekstra Bladet built its platform, which began with identifying business objectives and marketing goals. From there, it went into the process of collecting, processing, analysing, and activating the platform. The process involves awareness of the underlying systems and strategies, as well as being sensitive to government compliance.

Building its own platform required taking all these elements into consideration.
Building its own platform required taking all these elements into consideration.

And, of course, the most important partner must remain top of mind throughout the process: “The user is our most important partner. It’s not the media agency, it’s not the advertiser. It is the user. Because without the eyeballs of the user, there is no advertising.”

The upside to the changes taking place today is they could help restore some of the fundamental views of publishers as being supporters of democracy who provide information to help users better understand the world and events, he said.

The cross-site tracking ecosystem damaged that long-held reputation and reduced users to an ID in which the publisher cared less about reaching them with news than with targeting them with a message.

“We need to acknowledge that that is not a good place for publishers,” he said. “We need to get back to the role where we get recognised for the value that we bring to society, and that will bring advertisers.”

About Paula Felps

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