Smart advertising – News UK on its intelligent ad product unveiled at Cannes Lions

Following the unveiling of NewsIQ at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, Tyrone Stewart sat down with Ben Walmsley, digital commercial director at News UK, to discuss the product in a little more depth and get an update on other areas of the business.

Ben Walmsley News UKAs you’d expect, the 2018 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity featured many product announcements from across the advertising and marketing space. One of which was the unveiling of the NewsIQ product from major publisher News UK.

The NewsIQ product is aimed at helping advertisers to target audiences based on their emotions and attitudes. The technology is able to capture the preferences, emotional state, and opinions of the audiences across all of News’s digital platforms. And this is data that News has been sitting on for years through offerings like the Sunday Times Wine Club, Sun Savers, and Sun £9.50 holidays, according to Ben Walmsley, digital commercial director at News UK.

“We realised that we never really brought it all together,” he said. “We had lots of data assets, but they were all quite fragmented and maybe we weren’t as deliberate in the past as we are now around data. So, this preference, opinion, and emotion which we’ve anchored our IQ data product around is going to sit at the core of our business. It’s codifying what we’re trying to do when we’re collecting data and the other part of it is identifying where these pockets of data are around the business… There’s all these pockets of things that exist around the business and structuring it is a big challenge, but we’ve done that now.”

Despite having all this data at its disposal, it wasn’t a quick process for News to put together the IQ product.

The publisher put “about nine months of hard work” into both building the platform and structuring the vast amounts of data at its disposal – with this work coming from right across the business in its commercial, editorial, technology, and marketing departments.

“First, we had to decide what the data is that we want to collect then build the frontend, the interface, and then structure the data in a way you can query it,” said Walmsley.

With any form of data targeting solution, the safety of the audiences has to be taken into account and it’s the responsibility of both the publisher and the advertiser to ensure people are protected.

For instance, one of the criteria that the IQ solution can target based upon is somebody’s enjoyment of gambling through the publisher’s Sun Bets gambling site. Although, News assures that it’s not “saying at that point we would target someone to gamble irresponsibly,” insisted Walmsley.

“I think with any targeting it needs to be used responsibly and that’s our responsibility as much as it is the responsibility of the advertiser… There’s lots of different data you can infer from someone’s preferences,” he continued. “For example, that person likes sport or age, gender, demographic types of interests. Someone who likes gambling, you may be able to infer that they also like other types of content that might be less obvious – like, perhaps, forms of male lifestyle content. I think the thing with it is that it yields surprises when we start to dig into people’s content consumption patterns, which we tend to make assumptions around.”

Now, with any mention of an ad product, questions arise surrounding ad fraud. In News’s case, these questions tend to arise around domain spoofing particularly.

Back in January, News revealed that it had discovered that domain spoofing was costing marketers around £700,000 each month on its newspaper brands.

This discovery was made during a two-hour test, where the publisher made it impossible to buy any programmatic inventory on its sites. As a result of the test, it was found that 2.9m bids per hour were made on fake inventory alleging to come from The Sun and The Times.

News has seen that the introduction of ads.txt “all but eradicate domain spoofing as long as the buyer is insisting on it,” claimed Walmsley.

“If publishers have it and buyers insist on it, that’s one problem that goes away,” he said. “But fraud is not going to go away because there’s always going to bad people – this is a massive multi-billion-dollar industry – and it’s relatively easy to get away with pretty significant crime and not be detected, compare to robbing one of these nice shops down here. It’s always going to attract bad practice. But, on the specific topic of domain spoofing, we’ve seen a significant drop.”

At the same time, despite News seemingly having addressed its problems, Walmsley is still of the belief “that for reputable players in the industry it’s about collaboration and helping each other to identify where the fraud exists and what they can do about, rather than blaming each other which has been the case in certain instances”.

Since revealing – and seemingly sorting out – its problems around domain spoofing, News has introduced the Social Amp ad product, which “does ensure brand safety particularly”.

The advertising tool, designed to address Facebook’s news feed changes, enables brands to take their social content and amplify it across The Sun, The Times, and The Sunday Times’ online platforms and social channels.

“It solves the immediacy issue – if you want to get something out there, you can do it right now because you’ve probably already got that, you’ve posted it from your own account,” said Walmsley. “But you can put it in a more premium environment which is going to be better for brand building, better for building that emotional loyalty and taking the value of context than a social environment, which is a transient direction of thoughts from friends and whatever you’re following.”

Walmsley added that we can NewsIQ to be integrated into Social Amp and all of the publisher’s ad products – with even an eye on potentially using the platform to inform print advertising in the future.

“Wherever possible, from an activation perspective, you can’t unfortunately buy print at an impression level and deliver it in the same way you can digital performance, but we would integrate with digital audio and the Wireless Group, we would integrate it with Unruly, we would integrate it with all of our platforms,” he said.

Looking ahead, News is in talks with advertisers over launch partnerships for its NewsIQ product – though it’s unable to disclose the names that we could potentially see utilising the product in the near future.

What we can be sure of is that IQ will form the centre of the publisher’s ad business and the vast majority of its efforts in the near future will be focused on getting the best possible data and targeting opportunities for advertisers.

“We’re going to put a lot of energy into IQ, so I think our focus is going to be on building and iterating on IQ. I think, we don’t know at this stage, but I think what the world doesn’t need is more formats – as in things in different shapes and sizes,” said Walmsley. “Should IQ inform where formats are placed and what type of formats we use? The answer is absolutely. We’ll continue to refine our ads and the placement of them but, with IQ itself, I think there’s a lot more we can do to make that product stronger.

“This becomes the engine at the heart of the entire advertising business that gives us the insight to be able to plan and activate across all of News Corp’s properties to really understand what motivates our readers, what interests them, what their preferences, opinions, and emotions are. To have that level of insight, it can then be applied to all of our media channels and it becomes the core of the advertising proposition,” concluded Walmsley.