Inside Hearst UK’s multi-pronged approach to third-party cookie replacements

As the third-party cookie apocalypse approaches, it’s looking increasingly likely that there will not be one sole replacement that will satisfy publishers’ and advertisers’ needs. That’s never more evident than when you ask a media company about the different data collection strategies they’re testing right now. 

At Hearst UK, Faye Turner, head of commercial strategy and insight, and Ryan Buckley, head of digital, are leading the charge of finding and testing various methods of data collection. On the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast, they share how over the past few years, they’ve tested and implemented different alternatives to third-party cookies ranging from 50,000-person audience panels to newer options like clean rooms and data matching.

But with any new tech, possible downfalls and red herrings are bound to reveal themselves in what Buckley calls the “gold rush” of third-party cookie alternatives, including clean rooms

Highlights from the conversation have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. 

How readers play into business strategy

Turner: We have an in-house, Hearst UK audience panel, and these are readers [and] also digital users who are really engaged with our brands. They’ve put themselves forward to effectively be part of our business and support our business, in giving their opinions and providing information to us that we can also use in both our editorial campaigns and creating content for commercial campaigns. But they’re so engaged, that it’s really quite lovely that they trust our brand so much they want to be part of our journey. We’ve got around 50,000 of them on the panel, currently, we’ve been growing that for a while now. So that does show that the level of engagement that we do have, and we have them across all of us are 21 brands [so] we can cut those audiences in many different ways. We do have a full spectrum of audiences, very much covering all the different types of people that we do have here in the U.K. And we hold a certain amount of data on them.

We can really support our editors in the content they are producing, but also speak to our commercial partners, finding those kinds of really interesting aspects of how people’s lives have changed, and therefore how they can support them better in their lives through campaigns and digital content with us. So it’s a really useful tool that when we overlay it with digital behavioral data, and also the expertise that we’ve got from our editors and our Hearst Institute product testers and other experts of our brands, it becomes a really powerful trinity to be able to use the panel.

The appeal of clean rooms and data matching for Hearst UK

Buckley: Where we see a transition is in data matching. That is a whole new world that is coming through [with] data matching and clean room technologies. There’s a massive emergence around that. And I think it’s really exciting because this is an area where we can start to build really good, robust, strong relationships with our partners, whilst respecting our users’ privacy, and building out a really strong picture of how users are reacting. For example, if you took a client that was in the entertainment field, they would know exactly what their consumers are purchasing in those categories. They know what types of TV products they would be buying, what their budgets might be, etc. Now, the bit that they miss at the moment is, what’s their life choices? How do I reach my consumers? How do I extrapolate a wider reach of users and consumers for my products, and I think that’s where the interesting part of the cleanroom emergence [comes in.]

There is an opportunity now that we can bridge that gap, share and look at the enrichment processes that will allow us to not only understand our audiences more but on the other side, allow our clients to understand their [target consumers’] lifestyle choices and how we should speak to them.

Wariness around clean room technology remains, however

Buckley: Whilst we see [the] emergence — and this could be any technology that we see evolving and emerging — [of] clean room technologies, they absolutely can be a powerful tool for good and to increase engagement, insights [and] understandings. But there are areas that could be misused in different directions. And I think a testament to our own legal team, they are very keen to ensure that the privacy of our users are upheld completely.

But I do think that there is a downside to this emergent technology in terms of it creating a gold rush, that is the new data rush, shall we say in terms of everyone wanting to build their own known database. And I think this produces some challenges — and it may be more specific to European countries initially – where publishers now are seeing a need to drive their own known databases. I can see the different strategies coming through in terms of how they’re capturing emails. Now, this is new technology, albeit a few years old maybe, but it’s really got the spotlight right now. So you see an evolution amongst publishers in terms of, how do we grow our own database. 

For now, the most common strategy that is in the market at the moment is around the data walls. [Readers] are exposed to a certain amount of articles, and then you have to register and sign-up to get unlimited access. Now, picture a world where every single publisher you go to, has got the CMP for GDPR compliance, in terms of consent, and then all of a sudden, you’ve got a restriction around the amount of articles you can see for free. That, to me, seems like a potential major transition around the free internet as we know it today. There has to be an element of collaboration and I think that that exists within publishers, but also with clients and agencies and any partners that are involved with that chain, because whilst we really stand strong on the user experience, first, we have to adopt that as an industry.

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