Marketers And Media Companies, Start Your Scientists

  • by , Featured Contributor, September 22, 2011

Last week at the Paley International Council in L.A., I interviewed Deb Roy, the co-founder and CEO of social TV analytics company Bluefin Labs. Bluefin was spun out of the MIT Media Lab and uses Big Data, cognitive science and machine learning to help TV programmers, TV advertisers and agencies better understand the social media impact of TV.

As part of our session, Deb showed some extraordinary visualizations that linked TV ad and program impressions to millions of social media expressions. For example, they can report and categorize real-time comments (broken out by sentiment) of "Jersey Shore" viewers on a second-by-second basis. I asked Deb if, when he called on marketers or their agencies, he called first on their cognitive scientists.

I was trying to be cute, of course, since I was certain that no such folks were likely to be employed in such traditional companies. Shockingly, Deb replied "Yes." It turns out that more than one of Bluefin's early clients -- consumer packaged goods companies -- employ cognitive scientists on their brand and marketing teams

My objective in asking the question was to call attention to the fact that most advertising-related companies still rely almost exclusively on qualitative "social" science in much of their decision-making, not the kind of quantitative sciences that are taught and practiced at MIT, where Deb has been a tenured professor since 2000.



This is the new reality of the advertising and marketing industry. Marketers are hiring cognitive scientists, statisticians, mathematicians. Media companies are contracting with companies like Bluefin and TRA Global to analyze programs,  audiences, and their reactions in ways never before possible. Marketing services companies like WPP now own companies like Kantar. Software companies like Adobe now own analytics companies like Omniture.

What's constant? Many folks believe that more and more value in marketing, advertising and media will be created -- and unlocked -- through the application of hard science. If you are a marketer, media company or agency and want to participate in that value creation -- and realization -- then you'd better start "heavying" up on science, and that starts with bringing scientists into your organization as employees or contactors.

I believe that we are going to see an arms race in this area, not unlike what we have seen for computer scientists over the past 10 to 15 years. Demand will outstrip supply. Companies will compete for the best talent. Those with the best talent will gain market advantage. For marketers, they will sell more goods for less. For agencies, they will create and execute more effective and more efficient campaigns than their competition. For media owners, they will drive more yield from their inventory.

What do you think? Are scientists ready to change media and marketing as we know it?

3 comments about "Marketers And Media Companies, Start Your Scientists ".
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  1. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, September 22, 2011 at 5:58 p.m.

    I think we will see the equivalent of "quants" who are able to use data marts like an artist paints a picture, delivering more sophisticated models, particularly in behavioral science and product development. My fear is that in a world where the smart are getting super-smart and the merely average are losing ground without really knowing it, that the notion of an "arms race" presupposes there are many companies who know enough to know they should be going after the scientists.

    After all, if you don't know what you're missing, you're not going to know the difference until it's too late to do anything about it.

  2. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, September 22, 2011 at 9:20 p.m.

    Good point Brian. I believe that as the smarter companies gain advantage over those less science-focused, the reality of competition and lost market share will cause many (some) to add science and scientists to try to catch back up.

  3. Eric Porres from MeetingScience, September 22, 2011 at 9:34 p.m.

    Great points Dave, I'm working with a trained anthropologist/neuroscientist now, and it's pretty remarkable what comes of those conversations and resulting UI decisions. Gut feel has been supplanted by neuroscientific rationale, and on the front-end it's a rare blessing to work with a design team that can accept the science blended with an aesthetic.

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