Why scaling beyond walled gardens?

I wrote this post on MMT

Walled gardens offer an amazing platform to get brand presence quickly to the market, targeting core audiences for what seems a fraction of the budget. They have become into an essential tool for building awareness to the point of overspending other digital channels and most other media channels in many countries in the course of the past 10 years. But what then? Why scale out? Read on to find out the why and the how-to kick-start your company’s ‘scaling out’ for success.

Questions this article answers:

What are walled gardens?

Definition Walled gardens Walled gardens are closed platforms requiring a login to access data. They are able to track every single detail of user activity within their universe without having to share details with users or advertisers. This is the first-party universe: information on users is constantly collected, consent is given by subscribing and accepting of terms of use.

The different walled garden platforms offer 24/7 content service skewed towards the users’ assumed desires and served through a platform designed to maximize time spent. The most famous ones are:

  • Facebook groups (Facebook, Instagram)
  • Google (Youtube)
  • Amazon (marketplace, Prime, Music)
  • Apple (TV, Music and Apps)
  • Tencent (QQ, Qzone, Weibo)
  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
  • Twitch
  • TikTok
  • Pinterest
  • Snapchat

Facebook and Google account for over 50% of digital advertising spend worldwide.

What are the benefits of using walled garden advertising?

Thanks to the close universe they created, walled gardens provide a precise set of targeting opportunities not only based on location and time but also on behaviors and tastes. They can also guarantee deduplicated cross-device advertising, as they rely on a login solution to address users across all their connections.

Walled gardens provide a controlled environment for advertisers, giving confidence that is safe from conflict, violence and horror stories. They also highly qualify the indicated target audiences and geographical areas when configured properly.

They are still the most mature alternative to cookieless advertising of those solutions expected to hit the market in the next 12 months or so (with changes to Safari ITP, Firefox ETP and Google Chrome to come in 2022

What are the problems with walled gardens advertising?

Walled gardens do not share data with their customers. They report aggregate information on campaign engagement and performance without being transparent in regard to the campaign’s global advertising visibility, which prevents advertisers from acquiring deeper knowledge about what works and leveraging information to help them save on spending via the details on algorithm selection.

That means that any effort to learn from walled garden activities and mechanics cannot be applied to other solutions, as usage differs on top of the provided campaign results.

Time spent on walled gardens is not aligned with advertising spending. Walled gardens represent less than 40% of the time spent online in the US, according to Openx, and 40% in the UK, according to WARC. Statista reports walled gardens at 27% of daily social media usage in Germany in 2019. Despite this data, Facebook, Google and Amazon attracted 67.9% of ad revenues in the US in 2019, according to eMarketer, these platforms being based on user-generated content by nature (Amazon TV claiming a limited share at 6.8% of total company revenue). 

Why should brands that wish to grow not to limit themselves to walled gardens?


“Consumers are always looking for the next thing. So, our ability to scale audiences with any single partner and expect that we’re connecting with them throughout their entire journey, or all the way from the top to the bottom of the funnel and purchase, would be shortsighted if we only looked at one particular partner.”

Sean Peters
Chief Strategy Officer, Publicis Media

The old saying, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,’ is true. No social media has the capacity to fully scale up in every context and for all sectors, geographies and product cycles.

In the 1950s there was only one TV channel, which was fine back then. In today’s scattered offering, communication needs to be agile, relevant and smart in order to reach consumers with real impact, which includes not limiting your efforts to one platform.

Where are the media opportunities outside of walled gardens?

Broadening media selection in advertising activity can quickly become costly, as it requires producing creative content adapted to the other forms of media, objectives and universe chosen.

Digital media

The first, and most cost-efficient, step is to stick to digital advertising in the open web. That means websites and apps that exist outside of walled gardens. These represent over 50% of the time spent and benefit from a higher level of trust with the public.

IT offers a variety of buying mechanisms through programmatic solutions using third and first-party data for content outreach, contextual and publisher deals. The advantage here is that these use standard creative formats that don’t require further adaptation. The level of content and quality of environment differs greatly (as is the case with social media), but providers offer impression-level transparency and technical cost visibility to facilitate result tracking.

TV campaigns

The most powerful, and potentially expensive, is TV (linear, connected [link to Advance TV Article] and on-demand) as this format makes it possible to build advertising reach more rapidly. This used to mean straightforward buying of a few national channels offering powerful campaigns, leveraging expensive TV spot productions to generate leading campaigns that were then used for a few years. Today, TV is more scattered.

TV still represents the highest possible reach in the western world (94.1%of the UK population watches TV every week). Today’s consumer might watch sports and news on live television, dramas on subscription VOD and comedies through OTT. The implication of all this for marketers is that there are three key variables that need to be taken into consideration when building a plan: content, data and viewing platform. This means the creation of programmatic TV buy offers that combine these in a multiscreen plan.

Out-Of-Home (OOH)

Urban areas have seen the volume of digital opportunities to advertise in the streets growing. Considering new options to use media while on the go, OOH represents a good opportunity to target a younger audience that is more curious and willing to try out new things.

Cost of production is not high. Advertising campaign scale with time as the frequency is higher (once normal travel conditions have been restored) and new measurement technologies offer quality tracking solutions. As for TV, digital OOH (mostly urban areas) can be bought in programmatic platforms.

Radio and audio

Audio has been experiencing a transformation with the emergence of the podcast industry. (According to the infinite Dial, 37% of Americans listen to podcasts on a monthly basis.)

The development of digital radio and streaming have made music more accessible and digital audio extremely popular. As for other types of media, these can be bought on programmatic platforms.

Radio and audio are generally the cost-effective media of choice for traffic campaigns and low-cost reach, as they offer a great opportunity for brands to reach loyal listeners regularly. They also benefit from relatively cheap advertising production costs and quick turnaround. The efficiency of the media has long been proven by footfall measurements and regional testing.

Print (paper and digital titles) or publishing houses

Whilst Paper has been slowly on its way out over the past three decades, there are pockets of offerings that present valuable opportunities in a cookieless future:

A resurgence of specialized titles focusing on niche hobby and segmented content offers a no-wastage option to many consumer goods that attract offline customers

Contextual opportunities to address potential clients and build awareness in an expert environment while leveraging the trust established by the publishing provider

The quality of the associated content, which can attract a higher revenue crowd and generate a higher basket price for the same acquisition cost

We will be creating a series that will cover each type of media in 2021 and look at the benefits and constraints of each in more detail. Subscribe and stay tuned.

How can MMT help?

At MMT, our data analytics team supports your business needs when it comes to budget allocation and media efficiency based on market and client data. Whatever your business objectives, MMT defines the most relevant media mix that will move your business impact forward and scale up your business.

Our MMT Mercury media management software helps advertisers and agencies manage their digital campaigns end-to-end from planning to invoicing, including trafficking and monitoring across all platforms, walled gardens and the open web, connected TV, digital OOH, audio and digital print.

MMT Scout will help you visualize your performance and make faster decisions without spending hours gathering insight on multiple platforms. 

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