Impression Feast: How Food Publishers Handle The Thanksgiving Rush

thanksgiving bounty IIFor recipe sites, the days leading up to Thanksgiving bring a rush of users searching for turkey-basting tips and instructions for making stuffing and pumpkin pie. In the coming weeks, the winter holidays will bolster traffic even more.

These audience surges represent an opportunity and challenge for publishers as they try to maximize yield. Sales and operations teams must make sure their direct-sold campaigns deliver while optimizing monetization through programmatic channels. Helpfully, demand surges along with supply during this period. This is Q4 after all.

AdExchanger spoke with Epicurious/Bon Appétit, AllRecipes, The New York Times and Food52 about how they monetize during America’s most food-focused holiday.

Epicurious and Bon Appétit (Condé Nast)

This Thanksgiving will be Epicurious and Bon Appétit’s first grouped together in Condé Nast’s Food Innovation Group, a newly formed entity that leverages the combined scale of the two publishers. The goal for the group, officially formed in October, is to give advertisers a one-stop shop, said Craig Kostelic, head of digital sales for the Food Innovation Group.

The two publications combined had about 10 million unduplicated cross-platform uniques in September, according to comScore. That combined scale means bigger RFPs, Kostelic said. Advertisers can extend campaigns further through the Food Innovation Group Shopper Network, a web of food sites that reached 47 million unduplicated cross-platform uniques in October, again per comScore.

Maximizing yield required organizational changes within the group.

“We created an associate planning director that is a gatekeeper," Kostelic said. This person keeps the sell-through rate “on point” and focuses on ad products and inventory, he said. “Having someone who had been a planner, and not a business director, is a huge step forward.”

Programmatic selling occurs on a corporate level across Condé Nast, not at the magazine level. “We use their expertise to figure out what makes sense for CPM floors based on what we’re seeing from a direct standpoint, in order to yield the most revenue we can,” Kostelic said.

Selling cross-platform yielded better results from the standpoint of both yield and flexibility. “We’re bringing together desktop/tablet/smartphone audiences into one audience sell,” he said.

That means providing custom solutions across platforms, enabling broader reach for sponsored Thanksgiving guides or other holiday-themed placements.

“We can integrate our holiday recipes and content into high impact creative ad units using HTML5,” Kostelic said. “It’s a single build and tag that takes advantage of all our traffic.”

Allrecipes

From October to December last year, Allrecipes’ audience consumed almost a billion pages of recipes, reviews, articles, videos and shopping lists across 319 million visits. It’s those numbers that make Allrecipes the leader among digital food sites.

To monetize this huge audience requires 10 months of prep in the ad products, ad stack and ad servers to serve the CPG brands advertising on the site, explained Stan Pavlovsky, SVP and president of Allrecipes.

That means giving CPG advertisers cross-screen ad solutions, since half of Allrecipes’ visits occur on mobile devices. The site also offers audience targeting capabilities that connect with consumers throughout their path to purchase using Allrecipes’ first-party data. And unlike plain vanilla programmatic buying, Allrecipes provides “a highly contextually relevant environment,” Pavlovsky said.

Buyers on Allrecipes’ private exchanges usually “also want to include highly custom, high share-of-voice ad products like native, sponsorships, video and content marketing in their campaigns to allow for more robust storytelling,” Pavlovsky said. Allrecipes will blend custom offerings with private exchanges that target an advertiser’s target demographic using first-party data.

The New York Times

The New York Times has recently reworked its recipes section to surface more evergreen content. It launched a “NYT Cooking” app last May, giving the newspaper’s food section a stronger presence.

“At the Times, we believe that programmatic provides one of the best levers for publishers to optimize yield during the holiday traffic spikes,” said Michael Stoeckel, VP of ad revenue operations for the Times.

The increase in traffic occurs at the “most active time for digital ad spending,” so increased demand matches that supply spike. “However, during the last two years, this increase in demand has been magnified beyond direct sales as programmatic budgets are also very healthy during Q4,” Stoeckel added.

The Times’ focus has been to create more high-value programmatic offerings.

“Beyond the expectation of higher bid rates coming through our established open markets, we are lining up private marketplace and preferred deal relationships to map the increased advertiser demand to our expected influx of supply,” Stoeckel said. During Q4, the Times is “aggressively pursuing programmatic ​buyers that are heavy in holiday-conscious categories such as retail.”

Over the past few months, the Times has seen more dollars migrating from the open marketplaces to private marketplaces and preferred deals. “With the approaching end-of-year demand spike, we anticipate that this trend will continue if not accelerate.”

Food52

The holidays “are like our Super Bowl” said Amanda Hesser, co-founder and CEO of Food52. “It’s crazy leading up to Thanksgiving. [At] 5 p.m. at Thanksgiving it goes away until the next day, when they search for leftovers ideas. Then they start looking for Christmas ideas.”

Direct sales take precedence during this time.

“That’s our most prized inventory time, that’s where we’re getting sold out and shuffling things around for advertisers,” said Lauren Locke, director of ad sales and partnerships.

The increase in advertising activity is shored up by content. In early November, Food52 created a new landing hub page that focuses on Thanksgiving recipes and fall ingredients. This year, Food52 created a custom package for appliance company Electrolux centered around seasonal ingredients, like squash and cranberries.

Food52, which gets two-thirds of its revenue from its commerce site Provisions, steps up its own efforts during Q4, ramping up email advertising to drive sales at its online store. It’s that mix of content and commerce the publisher is betting on for Thanksgivings to come.

“We’re interested in having a lifelong relationship with our readers, and to have them come to us to buy a gift, have ideas for post-Thanksgiving recipes, watch videos and connect with other cooks,” Hesser said.

 

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