"The Sell Sider" is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community.
Thanks to COVID, the old benchmarks no longer apply.
Take grocery shopping, said Klarn DePalma, EVP of MNI Targeted Media, a division of Meredith Corporation that helps brands develop and activate digital media strategies.
“Online shopping has fundamentally changed the way we go to the grocery store compared to how we did it two or three years ago – and now there’s the question of what grocery buying will even look like in the future,” DePalma said.
But when the baseline of an accepted consumer behavior changes, he said, “we just have to come up with new ways to target those people.” MNI has a bunch of tricks, products and services up its sleeve to reach people in novel ways.
Omnipoint, for example, is MNI’s proprietary analytics platform which looks at a combination of anonymized first-party data, aggregated historical campaign results and third-party research to produce market analysis for brands.
And in April of last year, MNI launched CannabX, a programmatic ad exchange specifically for the cannabis industry.
MNI was previously housed within Meredith’s Local Media Group (LMG) along with 17 local TV stations in 12 markets across the US. It was not part of Gray Television’s $2.7 billion acquisition of LMG in early May and will continue to operate as an independent subsidiary of Meredith Corp. within its National Media Group.
DePalma spoke with AdExchanger.
AdExchanger: What exactly is MNI’s role within Meredith?
KLARN DEPALMA: We specialize in digital media executions in local, regional and national markets. We’re in 41 distinct cities with 47 sales reps covering the US, and we also do business in Mexico, Canada and Europe. Our job is to create client-facing promotions, which can mean anything from TV and owned-and-operated websites to CTV, OTT, streaming audio, digital out-of-home or just a good old digital campaign with data and targeting.
We’re completely brand agnostic, though. Although we’re owned by Meredith, we don’t use their inventory unless it fits into a client’s plan.
Does MNI get any data from Meredith or collaborate with its first-party Data Studio?
We work with Meredith on campaigns where it makes sense for us to do so in the capacity of a sister company. Meredith has a tremendous brand that reaches more than 95% of all women in the US.
But Meredith has its data, inventory and clients and we have ours. We work at arm’s length in general and together when it’s mutually beneficial.
How has the pandemic changed how you help clients plan?
The biggest thing is that people’s habits have changed dramatically. For example, all of my kids have been back in my house because they’re either working from home or doing at-home schooling. We’re very focused on how people are consuming content – whether through their phone, their computer, their TV, their iPad, whatever it is – and adapting so that we target them when they’re in the right position and frame of mind to make a purchase decision.
Take political. We used to focus on the one or two days before the primary and Election Day, but with absentee and early voting in many states last year we had to rethink how to reach likely voters, because they were making their voting decisions at a different time than usual. If you reach someone after they’ve voted … well, there’s no point. It’s over.
Politics was big for you during the 2020 cycle. MNI saw a 2,200% increase in revenue from political campaign spending. What factors contributed to that uptick?
A few things jump off the page.
The first is CTV and OTT, which were extremely hot this cycle.
The second was the importance of local. If you’re in a market like Atlanta, for example, and you’re running a campaign for the Senate race, you only care about reaching Georgians.
We have a private marketplace that allows us to aggregate reach in particular states and DMAs and a product called Voter Match that was strong for us last year and uses targeted online and offline data to reach likely voters, such as, say, Republicans who voted during the last two election cycles.
But the most important component in a political cycle is data. We have access to a lot of first-party performance data from the previous cycle. We know what worked, because we know who won, and this information is going to come in very handy next year with the gubernatorial races. Republicans are also going to try and win back the House and the Senate, so 2022 will be a big year.
Something else is also going to happen in 2022. How is MNI preparing for the end of third-party cookies?
This is the topic I’ve been asked about most on the client calls I’ve been on over the past six months.
Google is driving the bus, so we just have to do our best to be agile in how we think about cookieless, and we’ve been thinking about it for a while. For example, we developed a product about three years ago called Data Match that uses SDK data rather than cookies overlaid onto third-party offline data, such as voter records, to target in-market consumers.
Hard segue into … weed. What sort of demand are you seeing from cannabis advertisers through Cannabx?
You can think of it as a private marketplace and we have around 15,000 publishers that have been preapproved to run display and preroll placements for cannabis and THC advertisers. We have one client in California that’s seeing 10x ROI.
There are now 14 states where cannabis is legal and seven or eight state legislatures that are considering it, including Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island. By the end of the year, we could have 20 states with legal cannabis and two years from now I see cannabis as being one of our top categories. It’s become one of our biggest growth engines overall.
How do you manage the brand safety aspect?
It’s a PMP and we work with partners such as Moat, DoubleVerify and Pixalate to make sure campaigns are brand safe. We have direct deals with sites that pass back device IDs so we can verify and see where ads are running.
As much as some people complain about cannabis, it’s a very big product and there are a lot of sites out there that are more than open to cannabis ads. We’ve just got to make sure that the ads are only running where they should be.
This interview has been edited and condensed.