One of the worst fears of news publishers is an airline ad accidentally appearing next to an article about an airplane crash. Rather, what publishers would like to see, and regularly, are ad messages that appear to be perfectly related and contextually appropriate to the articles they are beside.
When readers browse to a story about one of their favorite sport teams, publishers would like to see an ad message about the team’s products. Even if the story makes only a passing reference to the team, the product message can go straight to those sections of the brain’s cortex that create desire — and, marketers hope, turn readers into consumers, preferably at that very time that the match is made.
Up until now, most digital ad targeting has focused on marrying the right ad with the individual user. But that kind of targeting can be hit or miss. Ads can be targeted to the wrong people because of imprecise data piggy-backed on to users’ “cookies,” or messages can be endlessly repeated until they become turnoffs. Targeting gone awry (or to excessive lengths) is one of the primary factors in the rapid rise of ad blockers.
Now, Lee Enterprises, publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and 45 other daily newspapers (with a joint interest in four others papers) has teamed up with native commerce firm Okanjo to try and connect the right kind of ad messages, and at the right time, to the right editorial content. The Milwaukee-based company says it can create such tie-ins when the relationship between editorial content and a product or service is based on the elusive value of “sentiment” as well as the more explicitly link-able value of keywords.
Despite periodic bumps, Lee is doing relatively well on digital revenue (both ads and subscriptions) longer term, as this 10-year chart shows. The publishing company brags about its 16% annual compounded increase in combined digital revenue over the decade. But Lee’s print ad revenues are disappearing faster than they can be replaced by digital revenue.
Lee’s still-formidable long-term debt of $625 million — most of it from the $1.46 billion purchase of the Post-Dispatch company and it stable of smaller dailies, weeklies and other print products in 2005 — helps to depress the company’s stock price, which is hovering below $2 per share. To continue accelerating the paydown of that debt — which has been cut from a high of $1,053,000,000 in 2010 — Lee is on the prowl for new digital ad-building programs, like the one with Okanjo.
In the following Q & A, Bethany Grabher, VP/Business Development at Okanjo, explains how her company is helping match the right ads to the right stories in Lee’s mostly mid-size markets:
Okanjo investor and media entrepreneur Michael D. Drescher says Lee’s publishers “have the biggest fire hose in town.” Compared to what?
Ten times more traffic than any other sites in their market areas.
What’s an example of “sentiment” that Okanjo’s software can pick up from a publisher’s editorial content and match the right advertising message to it? Any evidence this actually works in user consumers making a buying decision online?
Our Product Match technology is built on IBM’s Watson AI, so we’re tapping into the cutting edge of predictive analysis on consumer interest and behavior.
Here’s a simple example, you’re reading an article on the Wisconsin State Journal about a Green Bay Packers win over the Minnesota Vikings. Our technology filters keywords and differentiates the sentiment around each team, and then serves top Green Bay Packers products for immediate purchase.
We know that serving the right products in the right place, at the right time drives more action. Our placements see five times more engagement than standard display ads.
Lee will also be able to hold auctions through its relationship with Okanjo. Is this like competing with eBay, or are the products local to Lee’s markets?
Our auction platform mirrors eBay in functionality, but helps the publisher open a new revenue stream in their own market.
The idea is not to compete with eBay, but instead to bring some excitement and exposure to local events, activities, merchandise, etc. With Okanjo’s Auctions, a publisher can put tickets to a local event up for auction and use this tool as a way to drum up some excitement around the event.
An added bonus with our auctions platform is that all auction products flow into Product Match, so they organically appear next to related content on the publisher’s site.
Lee has a total of 20 million UVs. Will Okanjo and Lee be aiming at reaching that total number with at least some ads, or will the audience be segmented by local market?
We don’t run on hard news, court or crime sections. But beyond that, the goal is to reach as many Lee viewers as possible. However, because smart targeting is so important, we will be segmenting audiences by each local market. This also allows each local market to bring in local products to run through our platform.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.