Competing with the Duopoly – A Guide For Publishers

Updated on: January 5, 2024
"The duopoly takes-in more than 60 percent of the total digital ad spend in the US." 

There’s no need for us to summarize the influence of the duopoly in the digital advertising industry. As they [Google and Facebook] offer self-serving platforms with no minimum spends, publishers and other adtech vendors aren’t anyway near to compete. As a publisher what are your choices? How can you compete strategically with the duopoly? 

“The duopoly takes-in more than 60 percent of the total digital ad spend in the US” Net us digital ad revenues by company

Why the duopoly?

To compete with the Big giants, we, first need to do answer a question – “what makes them the best?“. Why (almost) all the advertisers and brands are utilizing them?

1. Data – Regardless of goals, KPIs, etc. marketers need data to understand their audience and target accordingly. In fact, the most important decisions of digital advertising, publishing, or marketing will be driven by data and the duopoly holds the biggest data pile. Facebook alone has over 2 billion MAU. Hence, it’s safe to say they reach at least 90% of the internet users on the planet combined. Now, would you like to exclude the internet from your online advertising strategy?

2. Platform – Data is useless in a fragmented environment. So, both Google and Facebook offers a platform to make sense of all the data and turns them into actionable insights for advertisers. What’s more, platforms can be used by the advertisers themselves. No need for middle-men.

3. Experience – Agreed. There are a lot of factors involved when it comes to acquiring users. But, in our industry, where transparency and legitimacy are in the spotlight of every event you attend, experience matters a lot. Google boasts itself as the pioneer in digital advertising with its stream of solutions. On the other side, Facebook has built a marketplace out of its user-hub. Both sound promising enough for advertisers.

It is worth mentioning that they’ve many other benefits to woo advertisers and brands. However, the above-mentioned factors are proven to drive them up.

Now that you have an understanding of why advertisers are picking the duopoly, it’s time to focus on the other side. You might be wondering whether there is a chance for us to attract the advertisers from the duopoly.

Without a doubt, we would say ‘Yes’. Why? Every coin has two sides and the duopoly has its own disadvantages too. Remember the CA scandal, ad misplacements, content policy violations, etc. faced by them in the past.

To be frank, we can offer what they can’t (till now). And, when we do it, the so-called duopoly will lose its cut.

Competing with the duopoly

Here’s what we can offer to attract advertisers.

1. Brand Safety Environment – With the ever-growing user base and user-generated content, it is impossible for both Google and Facebook to maintain 100% brand-safe environments. Several brands have pulled their ads off the platforms before and there will be similar pull-offs in the future.

However, when it comes to publishers, offering a brand-safe environment is a stone’s throw. For instance, publishers like Hearst Magazine, The Times, assured advertisers a 100% brand-safe environment and experienced an increased revenue in return.

“We absolutely are seeing dollars move our way for that reason, particularly on YouTube, given we’re the largest brand-safe publisher on most, if not all, the leading platforms”


2. Customized Audience – Even though a publisher can’t get billions of eyeballs, he/she can get the right audience. Publishers like The New York Times have seen a steep increase in their programmatic ad revenue when they started to invest in customization.

“We get that one size doesn’t fit all; everything is customized and specific to client needs.” 

–  Sara Badler, NYT’s Director of Programmatic Advertising.

Here’s how The New York Times used the customization to increase their programmatic revenue.

Need an easier way? Set up a PMP to ensure premium impressions for brands. 

3. Cutting down the Clutter – Everyone in the adtech nods when you say, “We are overcrowded”. And, that’s why advertisers aren’t willing to spend money on us. With the advent of new technologies, many middle-men started to emerge.

This further eases the work for the fraudsters and raises the concerns of the brands. Besides, 40 to 60 percent of the ad spend is going to the middle-men. So, it is essential for a publisher to partner with the right vendors and demand partners. Ensuring your SSP embraces quality over quantity as you do is also important in this case.

For instance, at Automatad, we partner with demand partners who are capable of offering quality demands with higher fill rates to optimize our publishers’ revenue. 

4. Partnering with other publishers – The isolated publisher data, which is the first-party data, supplies a segregated or broken view of consumer behavior. It does not give a clear representation of how potential consumers engage with the content. It leaves advertisers with a single option – Approach and partner with big platforms like Google.

Well, that’s not the case anymore. We’ve already seen publisher banding together to offer a quality environment with no middle-men. As we discussed in our weekly roundup, ‘The Ozone Project’ by the UK publishers aims to offer the same. In addition, data consolidation will improve your CPMs.

5. Independence – Here’s the fact: most publishers don’t even consider Google and Facebook as their competitor. In fact, they partner with them to monetize their inventories. We can’t cut down the market share of the duopoly without shifting to other adtech vendors.

EU’s largest publisher, Axel Springer switched Google Ad Manager with the AppNexus Ad server and seen an increased ad revenue. We’re not advising you to completely detach from Google, but trying to switch for a better alternative is endorsable.

What’s Next?

With the unstable and inconsistent advertising and publishing model, a single strategy for increasing CPMs and revenue generation will not suffice. Publishers need to come up with partnerships and collaborative strategies to stand against the big giants. Most importantly, remember where to cut them and where to add them.

Read our guide for publishers to reach the Gen-Z audience with a better content strategy.

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