‘We felt uncomfortable with the lack of control’: How DPG Media is reducing its reliance on Google ad tech

DPG Media is joining the likes of Axel Springer, Salon and Bloomberg in taking back control over how its media is monetized.

“We felt uncomfortable with the lack of control we had over the spend coming into our network, which was on the Google platform,” said Stefan Havik, DPG Media’s chief digital officer. “We didn’t know who was buying or for what price as a result of this so we changed our advertising stack.”  

To do this, the publisher recently rolled out its own version of Google’s Ad Manager tool, but with a more streamlined approach. 

Like its namesake, DPG Media’s Ad Manager functions similarly to an ad exchange, but with a unique twist — now it’s the publisher that has direct control over which inventory is sold to advertisers. And the best part? Advertisers can buy it all directly, without Google or any other middlemen getting in the way. Normally, they’d have to go through demand-side platforms and other ad tech vendors, but not anymore. 

However, don’t mistake it for a typical demand-side platform (DSP). DPG Media’s Ad Manager doesn’t prioritize extensive brand safety or fraud controls.

According to Havik, those issues are more prevalent when buying through ad tech intermediaries rather than directly from publishers. He emphasized that when advertisers purchase ads on their platform, they know exactly what they’re getting and where the ads will appear.

In theory, this should mean more of that money goes toward showing ads — i.e. “working media” — than on things like ad tech fees and other costs. So let’s say a marketer wanted to bid on DPG Media’s inventory at €2.50, for instance. If the bid was made through ad tech then they’d probably have to bid more — say €3.50, for example — to make sure the publisher gets the €2.50 after all the ad tech fees have been subtracted. 

“We made our platform free so we don’t take any fees,” said Havik. “And the fee that gets freed up from not having to be spent in the traditional supply chain is left with the advertiser to decide what they do with it.” 

Advertisers can still use their own independent DSP to buy ads from DPG Media. They just won’t be able to do so for any of its customized formats nor will they be able to use the ad tech to buy ads with an alternative ID. Instead, those advertisers will have to use DPG Media’s audience data to target its readers.

“From an identity perspective, the identity in our network is first party and is stable,” said Havik. “If you buy from our network [Ad Manager] then the identity of the audience lasts a lot longer than the typical week-long-period you’d get if you used a DSP.” 

This stance isn’t likely to change. Like other publishers, DPG Media doesn’t back alternatives to the third-party cookie it can’t control. As Havik explained: “We don’t support any of those universal ID solutions because we believe they’re not sustainable.”

There aren’t many publishers that can afford to take this stance. Refusing to work with those solutions means refusing the ad dollars that get spent on the back of them. DPG Media, however, can do so because it has a scale that alternative IDs don’t. Moreover, DPG Media’s ad tech seems to perform well against other ad tech vendors — at least according to the early tests.

For the last year or so, the publisher has been running closed beta tests with advertisers and agencies including IPG’s Matterkind, Omnicom, Renaul, Decathlon, Accenture and Germany’s MediaMarkt. During this time, the publisher said ads bought via the DPG Ad Manager had a 39 percent lower cost per thousand viewable impressions (vCPM) and 43 percent lower cost per conversion (CPA), compared to other established platforms.

“With performance up to three times better than the campaign average, we manage to create relevant value for our clients within Ad Manager and exceed expectations,” said Tim Rowinkel, the programmatic director at OMD.

Getting to this point has been a long and arduous uncoupling from Google. Since 2019, it has replaced Google Analytics with competitor Snowplow, built its own platform for sharing its data, and also decided to reduce the amount of ad inventory it sold in the open market where the price of ads is determined in real-time auctions. 

“We’ve tried to focus on creating products that will make our advertising work better, rather than focusing on doing what we can to increase margins or CPMs,” said Havik. “I don’t care about those things. I only care about making sure our network is performing well, and competitively from a direct response or branding perspective, versus Facebook and YouTube.”

It’s uncertain if this will be persuasive enough to sway more advertisers to join the movement, as they tend to stick with the established norms. However, if there’s ever a right time for them to embrace the vision of publishers like DPG Media, it’s now. As the industry moves close to limitations on third-party addressability, it will become increasingly challenging for advertisers to overlook the moves made by these publishers. 

Whether this is enough to convince more advertisers to follow suit remains to be seen. They’re not known for deviating from the status quo. That said, if they are going to buy into what publishers like DPG Media are trying to do then now is as good a time as ever. The closer the industry gets to third-party addressability being throttled the harder it’s going to be for advertisers to ignore what these publishers are trying to do. 

“This type of move could work, particularly with publishers that have a large direct business,” said Sasha Auzins, co-founder and chief operating officer at media consulting business Elaboration. “Integrations would be the key, how the platform connects into the programmatic ecosystem as well as what segmentation capability is built in. GAM is a full featured product, so the detail on which features the DPG platform includes would be important.”

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