Seasonal Targeting Requires Publishers’ Insight

red circle drawn around graphic of group of people

By Elizabeth Brennan, Head of Advertiser Strategy at Permutive

Behavioural insights will help marketers thrive this holiday season as shoppers stay online.

Last year, a surge in online shopping supercharged e-commerce, with a 46.5% growth in e-commerce sales year-over-year in 2020. This acceleration is not slowing down, as it’s predicted that the boom will be followed by strong growth of 20.5% in 2021, pushing e-commerce sales to £185.22 billion, according to eMarketer. It is a continuation of the shift of e-commerce from a necessity to a habit for many consumers.

As we head into October, the calendar populates with key commerce events, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, through to consumers spending on Christmas Day. These tentpole shopping events have turned from singular days into popular shopping periods, extending into week or even month-long activities.

Understanding what audiences are engaging with online during these periods requires publishers’ first-party data, without it, marketers may be left with a seasonal blind spot. It’s why advertisers are seeing the value of publisher data, forming direct partnerships and running campaigns based on publishers’ knowledge of their audiences.


This knowledge goes beyond declared data, for example, age or gender, to a variety of first-party data signals. This includes browsing habits, what they read, frequency and duration of visits, whether they engage with ads, and what other content they interact with within a session. This first-party data can tell marketers a lot about their desired audience.

While ad budgets may be recovering post-COVID, rising to 18.2% this year, every bit counts. To get the most from partnering with publishers this holiday season, and personalising based on publishers’ first-party data, here are three considerations for campaigns.

Source data from privacy-compliant partners

Current data practices compromise user privacy,  and advertisers that don’t preserve user privacy within their media buying and targeting could come under regulatory and reputational risk. Consumers have come to expect protection, a Deloitte study found that 78% of people say companies are responsible for protecting consumers’ personal data.

Advertisers need to leverage first-party data to be immune to tightening regulations. This is data that is owned by an entity, and for publishers, first-party data is all the data they collect on browsers whilst they visit their websites.

It means that publishers will be the guardians of targetable data across the web and what’s key for advertisers is that by working with publishers more closely, they can target advertising against this insight while preserving consumer privacy.

Tap into your audiences’ adjacent interests

Third-party data from data brokers or advertising technology used for planning, buying and optimising digital marketing activity is disappearing. To understand what their customers do online, whether their habits are changing and what other interests they have, advertisers will need to access publishers’ insights.

Publishers who have a relationship with their users can look back and see what behaviours and trends they were seeing 12 months ago to help advertisers plan their campaigns more effectively. Being open to these trends can widen a targeting pool. A publisher client recently told us that advertisers are often surprised to discover that a streaming audience is also soccer fans and 16x more likely to travel with their families or more likely to watch documentaries than indie movies. It’s this first-party data that can scale a contextual understanding of audiences.

Develop relationships now and iterate

Trends and shopping patterns change every minute, particularly in seasonal shopping periods. Publishers’ real-time behavioural insights and recency of data, made possible by technology, and this provides an opportunity for advertisers. Developing these relationships requires some time for testing and iteration.

Advertisers shouldn’t wait to test campaigns with publishers on Black Friday itself, especially when other advertisers are already reaping the benefits of using first-party data. For example, Dotdash saw a 2-3x performance-based increase versus third-party data after running A/B tests. And Insider sees 19 out of its top 20 advertisers using its first-party data platform SAGA today, claiming that context and content are the greatest drivers of intent.

When advertisers start developing these strategic relationships with publishers it can be part of an ongoing, iterative and reinforcing media plan. Advertisers should start their testing phase using publishers’ data now so that they understand its applications and efficacy before the seasonal period is upon us.