Industry Insights
Catholic Audience Network on the Digital Trifecta of Digital Advertising


Hugh Macken
Catholic Audience Network / VMR Communications



For those of us that aren’t familiar with the Catholic Audience Network™, please tell us a little more about your offering and core audience.

Catholic Audience Network™ is a global banner, video and email ad network comprised of Catholic sites, mobile apps and email newsletters. CAN is owned and operated by VMR Communications LLC, a digital ad agency specializing in empowering organizations – secular and faith-based – to reach Catholics online.  CAN’s core value propositions are:

- our global reach
– the quality of our sites and mobile apps
– the premium first-look inventory we offer
– our performance-advantage of solving the problem of false assumptions about which placements will perform most effectively thereby returning a more successful and efficient campaign for our clients


From your website, it says that you are able to serve ads across Google, Facebook, Instagram, as well as Publisher Partner & Owned / Operated sites. What made the team want to offer this breath of reach to your customers, across so many different platforms?

We reach an extraordinarily well-defined audience of educated, thoughtful, values-oriented people. Initially we were able to reach that audience when they were visiting Catholic sites in our Network. And it occurred to us that most visitors to our sites spend the vast majority of their time online on sites that were not in our Network. So our Catholic Ad Extend™ service allows our clients to reach our audience not only on the 100+ sites and mobile apps in our Network but also on tens of thousands of sites and mobile apps that are not in our Network. This gives them exponentially more exposure to our audience and more flexible creative options to capitalize on that exposure. For example, many of the sites in our Network are  parish and cathedral websites with smaller, below fold ad units. Our Catholic Ad Extend capabilities allow us to run in-stream pre-roll video ads to the actual visitors of those sites when those visitors go to other out-of-network sites across the web.  Those ads also tend to stand out because people on those third-party sites are not expecting to see a Catholic-oriented ad, which has resulted in click thru rates that significantly outperform google benchmark ctr numbers.


What are some key targeting parameters you use across platforms like Google, Facebook, and Instagram to reach specifically a Catholic audience?

It really varies for each campaign depending on their objective. Some of the parameters we use are:

- geographic
device type
– day / time of day
household income


From your internal data, what can you share with us about types of ad units, platforms, formats, or devices that perform best with Catholic audiences?

Again, it varies for every campaign but we find that the most significant and  often overlooked factor is actually the landing page to which the ad redirects. A simple ad with a superbly designed landing page will outperform a superbly designed ad with a terrible landing page every single time. So we advise our clients to keep the ad simple with a very clear call to action as well as a nicely designed landing page with key content on the page in an above-fold position. As for formats, we find that 300×600 ad units do really well from a CTR standpoint. But one of our best performing, most cost-effective ad formats is the :15 second in-stream pre-roll video ads that we run on hundreds of sites across the web (including youtube) to people we know have previously visited sites in our Network. The CTR’s and engagement rates on those are often 3 times what we see on normal banner ads. In terms of placements, sites in our Network that provide informational content, that is content specifically of interest to Catholics, tends to perform the best overall.


Are there any specific nuances with targeting a religious audience, as compared to reaching any other audience on the web like Moms, Finance Audiences, or Gamers?

Our audience is educated and thoughtful. They do not like in-your-face ads that disrespect their intelligence or their faith. They also don’t like ads that come across as judgmental or negative. Also, and this is very important: building your brand is particularly important in the Catholic space because the Catholic audience tends to be more values-oriented as a consumer group than many other audience groups. It’s very important, therefore, that brands communicate in a way that our audience will recognize and then embrace as being fully in sync with their faith and the values that stem from their faith.


What is your take on programmatic advertising and native ad units?

Programmatic is ideal when your objective is short-term lead generation / direct response but needs to be complemented by branding-oriented campaigns to drive long term ROI. Branding is particularly important in the Catholic space because the Catholic audience is more values-oriented as a consumer group than many other audience groups. Catholic consumers like to support organizations and business who keep their promises and whose values are in sync with their own. The branding effect that an advertiser receives by doing a large, targeted buy on premium sites in our Network, like or, or, and aligning their brand with these Catholic publishers, is something they simply cannot achieve programmatically. It’s something they can’t do on Facebook or Twitter or Youtube.

As for native, with the exception of ads inside email newsletters, I’m a much bigger fan of sponsored content than I am of native ad units. That said, we have seen growing demand for native/text ad units inside email newsletters. The challenge, of course, with ad serving inside email newsletters is finding an ad server that supports the email client environment, DFP does not. Yet. The best option we’ve come across is LiveIntent. They support native image ads in email and will, I’m told, soon start serving native text ads as well. Native ads in emails – including programmatic native and non-native ads in emails – is something that is front and center on our radar from a product development standpoint for our Network. I would not be surprised if Google looks to acquire LiveIntent. There are some tremendous potential synergies with both Google’s DFP product and its Adsense product.


How do you think the ad blocking issue in the entire industry will play out? Is there a specific ad blocking rate that occurs on Catholic-oriented sites that you’ve seen?

Although they were late to address it, it’s nice to see IAB taking this issue more seriously. It’s a trend that in some sense bodes well for verticalized ad networks like ours because it underscores the importance of quality ads and a respect for each reader’s privacy, both of which enhance user experience which is one of our core value propositions to our publisher partners. That said, it’s affecting us currently in that we’re treated the same way programmatic ads are treated from an ad serving standpoint. I think you may see ad servers like DFP do something similar to what they did back in the day when flash was so popular. With flash – which our clients no longer use – you’d upload the flash asset and a backup jpg/png or gif that would display automatically if the ad server detected that the user’s browser did not support flash. So I think you could see ad servers like DFP negotiating agreements with the major ad blockers to serve an  “ad block-friendly” version of each ad when the ad server detects an ad blocker. In terms of ad blocking rate, we’ve run – powered tests on a few sites and found ad blocking rates between 3% and 7%.


Are there types of brand categories that you’ve seen convert well with Catholic audiences, or maybe counter-intuitive ones that would maybe surprise us?

One that may or may not surprise you is the entertainment category. We’ve had great success promoting major motion pictures that have a Christian theme.  We’re seeing growing demand from that vertical because studios are seeing that our audience, and others like ours, is engaged and thirsting for wholesome entertainment that uplifts and is not offensive to Catholic faith and morals. Other categories that tend to perform well are events, religious orders, higher ed and non-profit NGOs doing lead generation and fundraising campaigns.


How has been your experience so far when working with publisher partners on Sponsored Posts on Instagram? Do you think this will ever be able to be automated with software, or will always be done with an influencer posting a sponsor message manually?

We know that in time, all things can be automated, but I’m not sure that in all cases that is most prudent.  The idea of one-on-one influencers has been one of the driving forces behind the massive growth and success of social media platforms.  Audiences are becoming more aware of the nuances of “human” versus “technology-driven” influencers.  The question is: if automation becomes the standard, will advertisers lose the trust of their audiences, and ultimately hurt their bottom line in the process?


Lastly, what do you see as the future for verticalized ad networks?

We think the future is bright for verticalized ad networks because of the growing demand on the part of readers for ads that respect their values, interests, and privacy.  Additionally,  demand on the part of publishers is growing for ad revenue from advertisers that are interested in results for themselves but also realize the importance (for them and for the media) of ensuring the long-term financial viability of Catholic digital media and that of other verticalized ad networks.



How Advertisers Reach Catholics Online™

VMR is the consonant form of Ave Maria. We power, through the grace of God and the intercession of Our Lady of Good Success, the advertising of leading Catholic and non Catholic organizations looking to reach Catholics Online. One of the primary ways we do so is through Catholic Audience Network™, a leading global Catholic internet ad network representing the digital ad space of over 120 quality Catholic websites and reaching millions of visitors in over 200 countries.

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