Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Digital intelligence

Published in Mar-Apr 2016
Digital publishers are selling themselves short by focusing on just reach rather than investing in audience analytics.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

There is no doubt that Google still attracts the highest proportion of digital ad spend in Pakistan. At 28% in FY 2014-15 (Source: Aurora), it remained the destination of choice for a brand’s ‘digital dollars’. Facebook is not a too distant second at 20%. For most brand managers, regrettably, this encapsulates the end of their digital spectrum as a recipient further down the line, which conversely has the lion’s share of ad spend in print and TV, namely, stands at a bleak three percent.

For a number of years, I have observed with some alarm that despite an admirable adaption of every major Pakistan-based news publisher of the digital space in terms of video-based news, mobile apps and interactive content, they have failed to garner an equitable share of digital dollars.

No leads in CPMs
One of the measures by which this can be gauged is what they charge on their site for every thousand impressions (pageviews in terms of digital ads served) i.e. CPM (Cost Per Thousand) impressions where the ‘M’, by the way, represents the Roman numeral. According to international best practices, this information should be readily communicated via a digital rate card. And here lies the first caveat.

Out of all the leading news publishers, paradoxically, the only one with a decent digital rate card is CPM rates for various regions, pages and types of banner ads are stated as well as CPM for mobile in-app ad placement. The latter includes a link-up with third party tracking platforms as well as in-house tracking options. The Geo TV mobile app has been experimenting with 15 second pre-news mobile video ads since 2013.

Most of the remaining news publishers have either removed or have no rate card at all and advertisers are expected to ‘contact’ them for details. Nevertheless, the average CPM as asked for by the leading news publishers can safely be taken as eight dollars (US). However, it is an open secret that the rates demanded rarely match those the advertisers are willing to pay. In Pakistan, it is disquieting that most major news publishers earn an average CPM of not more than five dollars, although there are exceptions depending on the content and campaign.

At this point, it is pertinent to define what it means to be a publisher in the digital or mobile advertising value chain. defines a publisher as “an organisation looking to maximise the monetisation of their digital or mobile content. Publishers use either a digital or mobile advertising platform (ad server) to manage and fill their available ad space or ad inventory.” This essentially means that publishers are not restricted to news websites. But a look at alternate popular content sites such as (two million daily pageviews pre-YouTube days) shows that the pre-YouTube monetisation on their ad inventory was only between $1.5 to four dollars CPM.

Plenty of leads in content
What ails our publishers then? It is certainly not a lack of traffic which is, in itself, a constructive measure of, and testimony to, engaging content. The Express Tribune, for example, had a mere 10,000 visitors per day in 2010, but managed a 15-fold increase within three years. During the May 2013 elections it went beyond this and boasted a peak traffic of up to 450,000 visitors per day. has over seven million monthly pageviews. has over 21 million pageviews per month whilst has 45.5 million yearly unique visitors.

What is lacking is a double-edged sword. On one side most publishers are not willing to improve their digital strategy by investing in better audience analytics beyond the (free) Google Analytics for their site. This is highly contentious as better site analytics translates to digital ads that are better targeted and hence increase the publisher’s value proposition to advertisers, hence enabling them to charge higher CPM.

An outstanding case in point is The Guardian’s ‘Digital First’ vision. Extensive and continuous analytics are employed to go far beyond standard traffic data to truly get to know the type of user that accesses and also how, when and where they access it. So whether the user for any of their numerous sections is an ‘adventurous traveller’, is ‘progressive’, a ‘music and film lover’, or a ‘big spender on items in the home’, to name but a few, The Guardian will know and respond with appropriate content and ads. Consequently, its value proposition for advertisers is exceptional and very few digital publishers can match its profiling and intelligent targeting data analytics. Last year, The Guardian’s digital presence generated over 460 million monthly impressions globally, and brands have not stopped lining up to advertise with The Guardian on its mobile and online channels since it announced its digital vision in 2009. And what are they (willingly) paying? An average of CPM $50 or more.

Nevertheless, I must give credit where it is due: most local publishers, whether news or alternate content ones, are capable of giving standard analytics related to gender, age, location, Twitter and Facebook audience numbers. Furthermore, there was a real positive move forward in terms of valuing analytics at our end when Effective Measure (EM) entered the market in 2012 and managed to sign on all the major news publishers for improved (and paid for) site analytics by 2013. EM offered “behavioural, contextual, demographic and psychographic attribute measurement” putting the local news publishers in a very good position to add genuine value to their ad inventory. The momentum, unfortunately, lost its steam, and EM had to exit the market mid-2014 for lack of consistency. Imtiaz Noor, former Country Manager for EM, and now Head of Marketing at Kaymu says that “we are back to square one in terms of the willingness by digital news publishers to invest in intelligent analytical tools...”

But where are the leads in digital?
On the other side of the double-edged sword, brand managers are not holding publishers to task in demanding intelligent analytics. Digital remains for most brand managers a tag-on. Facebook posts, for example, are commanded on a per day basis and consequently sold precisely in this inexcusable manner by many digital agencies in order to validate retainers and making a mockery of the intelligence that digital can offer.

Despite a number of young professionals entering the market with digital certifications, their innovative thinking is often pushed briskly aside in favour of the standard KPI of reach. Not long ago, I was astonished to read a statement in Aurora by Sarfaraz Rehman, former CEO of a progressive company like Engro Foods, whereby digital “brings accuracy through micro targeting but has limited reach...” But that is precisely the point of digital, Mr Rehman – to be accurate and engage that (limited) segment of the (mass) market that is actually interested and willing to engage with your product.

I sincerely implore our digital publishers to invest in intelligent analytics and to let young digitally savvy professionals make their mark by taking risks of the digital kind. Lead and let them lead.

Yasmin Malik is a telecom analyst associated with the UK’s Informa Telecoms & Media.


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Comments (8) Closed

Syed Ali Raza Apr 29, 2016 02:13pm

Excellent Article.

Yasmin Malik May 07, 2016 10:21am

@Syed Ali Raza Thank you for your appreciation. Would be of interest to me what your own views are on digital publishers and CPM rates from either the buying or selling point of view.

Syed Ali Raza May 08, 2016 04:15pm

@Yasmin Malik I think every publisher need publisher based ad server for fair reporting because Google Ad manager isn't reliable that is y agencies are taking services of Sizmek, Adform etc. As far as rates are concern same jang or geo rate card is available on express site coz some of jang digital people switched to express.

Zunair Nasir May 09, 2016 09:00pm

Excellent article indeed. The local publishers should offer something new and innovative. They could use Google DFP!. Even though, its free but it can do wonders.

Talha May 16, 2016 10:51am

Another good and truly insightful read by the veteran author. Whenever you read her articles, you gain something. The problem is very pertinent. Why is there such a lackluster on part of local publishers. Well, there is a dearth of audience. In Pakistan, the audience that can read (60% is gone) and can afford an internet device in any form (another 20%) and can afford a range of product (another 10-15%) is actually very limited. 10-15% of total 190 Million of us. Lack of capability of locality or even city level targeting and ad delivery options leaves advertisers with no choice than to resort to simple to use Google and Facebook interfaces. With global reach, it bodes well with the publishers also. All in all, the three key fundamentals literacy rate, internet usage, and affordability remain very bleak. This is in fact a challenge that needs creative thinking but nobody seems interested.

Riz Ali May 19, 2016 10:39am

I think the point here is the level of Intelligence & Knowledge amongst Publishers, agencies & advertisers that needs to be understood.

We're in a market which is experiencing a digital TRIFECTA in the form of low cost IP enabled phones, cost effective broadband & content providers like IFLIX & NETFLIX entering our market which are paving way for a new era of adaptive marketing based on data.

With this in mind, The culture within organizations especially at the advertisers end will need to evolve & start prioritizing the level of intelligence they need to address this change which I see is not far off.

DATA & digital, moving forward, will be shaping up a new business model that will actually evolve the type of current media buy in the market based on cost to a one which may potentially see buying done directly with the people who we want to target.

Yasmin Malik May 24, 2016 11:19am

@Talha Thank you for your kind words and appreciation - though you are certainly among the Aurora authors from whom one gains aplenty. I disagree with your assessment of Pakistan's digital audience. See Riz Ali's comments under this article. Access to cheap mobile phones has meant a transformation wrt accessing the (mobile) web.

Yasmin Malik May 24, 2016 11:21am

@Riz Ali thank you for your comment. You are so spot on. I hope you will be among those who practise better digital intelligence. We only need a few strong people to lead by example. To give digital the priority it needs. Others will follow.