Audience Square: How French Premium Publishers Collaborate On Ad Tech

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AudiencesqPremium publishers are generally territorial. The idea of Hearst, Conde Nast and The New York Times offering a unified solution for media buying is a pipe dream. But French premium publishers operate in the spirit of greater cooperation.

In December 2012, Le Monde, Les Echos, Prisma Média, M6, L'Express and Libération created a subsidiary called Audience Square. The Audience Square media-buying platform helps manage inventory across digital platforms and is built from AppNexus technology (in fact, it’s AppNexus’ first major European client).

Publishers “had the feeling that programmatic and RTB would take a big part of the advertising world," said CEO Alexis Marcombe. "Instead of being dependent on other technologies or directly on other ad networks, they preferred to launch and manage their own company.”

As digital markets have matured, so has Audience Square’s role. Marcombe pointed out that though Audience Square originated as a manager of ad inventory, it has become a major ad tech center for the six publishers that fund the project as well as its shareholders, who include Express Roularta, NextRadioTV, Nouvel Observateur, Le Point, CCM Benchmark and RTL Net.

Case in point: Audience Square launched a mobile RTB platform in early May. The platform automates bidding across apps and the mobile Web. The company says its mobile offerings reach nearly 14 million mobile users each month.

The upshot is that publishers invested in Audience Square have direct access to technologies that can help them build their digital advertising initiatives.

“If Le Monde wants to do programmatic, they’re big enough to do it on their own. Le Monde knows precisely what their advertisers will be attracted to,” Marcombe said. “We have developed tools with AppNexus and [data-management platform provider] Ezakus that will make publishers independent to do programmatic. We are a kind of tech provider solution for publishers. They’ll use our tools to make their deals easily.”

The Ezakus partnership creates an additional data layer: the ability to use customer past purchase history to build lookalike audiences (Ezakus calls this “pretargeting”), thereby making ad inventory more valuable.

For example, imagine a Chanel campaign targeting females aged 30-50 living in Paris. Audience Square will place an Ezakus tag on Chanel.com. Over the course of one or two weeks, Ezakus will analyze the traffic on Chanel’s site in order to determine the ideal visitor for Chanel.com. Ezakus matches the traffic to Audience Square’s existing database of customers.

“Doing that we’re able to understand the behavior of the ‘good’ Chanel visitor,” explained Ezakus CEO Christophe Camborde, meaning within the age and gender targets specific to each campaign. “And with this data we’re able to do scoring through a lookalike model to multiply Chanel’s audience. We can create, for example, something like 50,000 targets that are similar to Chanel’s audience. We are then able to guarantee Chanel increased traffic of customers similar to their current customers, but who have not yet visited Chanel.com. Those are Chanel’s next clients.”

Adding these targeting capabilities to Audience Square is crucial if it is able to deliver premium ad units, Marcombe said.

“The data that Ezakus provides us with allows us to improve the value of our inventory,” he added. “We are able to target very basic things based on what customers want to buy and with pretargeting, we are able to notify our publishers of potential new customers.”

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