Big Mergers, Big Data: We Need to Be Smart About Both

  • by , Featured Contributor, August 29, 2013

The announced merger between Omnicom and Publicis has sparked a very constructive debate in our industry about how major players in the ad industry must significantly improve their ability to leverage data in this digital, global, Internet-driven age.

To be clear, I don’t think that big data is really going to play a significant role in the merger. You don’t need to be big to leverage big data; quite the opposite. The notion of big data is really about the newfound availability, to companies of all sizes, of massive volumes of highly valuable, unstructured data being thrown off from all the digital media, ad and commerce systems.   Big data also means the incredibly inexpensive, but extraordinarily powerful cloud-based data storage and analytic capabilities that these companies can now avail themselves of with nothing more than an Internet connection and credit card.

While the Omnicom/Publicis merger lacks a big data “news hook,” I still believe it’s going to be very successful, and is a great deal for both companies and their clients over the long term. Without question, the combined company will be able to reduce operating costs of redundant centralized services, and reduce costs for its clients by gaining a substantial amount of negotiating leverage with media suppliers. Further, over the past 20- plus years, Omnicom has built up an extraordinary and diverse stable of more than 200 “below-the-line” marketing services providers that can now be offered in “solutions packages” to Publicis’ massive roster of clients -- ironically, not unlike the “team”-driven solution concept championed and executed by WPP.



I like that the notion of leveraging big data was thrown around a lot during the merger announcement, as well as in subsequent industry gossip and punditry (yes, I had some fun playing with it as well). This discussion is helping many in the industry better think about and understand the important role that data will play in their futures.

First, data is not a panacea for what ails our industry. Big data is worthless if we’re not focused first on using data smartly. This issue plays out especially in the industry’s myopic focus on using data for optimal media placements but ignoring data when it comes to optimal media messaging (ignoring for a moment the ability to automatically iterate hundreds of banners ads in the process of seeking "optimization”).

In the context of the post-merger announcement discussions, I had a fun email exchange on this topic with two good friends, Mike Donahue of the 4A’s, and Bob DeSena of Engagement Marketing Group.  Both industry leaders have been visionaries and evangelists on this topic for years. Donahue wrote that our industry “will be on a Dodo bird trajectory if we continue to marginalize or ignore smart data, the data that advertisers have that can inform the creation of brilliant messaging.”

We all agreed that making the media placement and the message work together is critical. DeSena stressed that our industry needs to focus our data efforts on creating consumer engagement, "turning on a brand user or a brand prospect to a relevant message in an appropriate context.” Donhaue drove the point home: “Using big data to inform message placement and message targeting won't yield diddly squat if the message itself is not truly engaging.”

How should this work? How about, big data nails appropriate context, while smart data nails relevant message and appropriate context. To maximize brand value, you need both. What do you think?

7 comments about "Big Mergers, Big Data: We Need to Be Smart About Both".
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  1. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff, August 29, 2013 at 4:53 p.m.

    Historically, marketers have are reactionary and oversteer. We worship at the altar of data ("go by the numbers") until it fails -- at which point we flip over to the altar of creative ("he/she has the magic touch") until it too fails us. In fact, neither data or creative are Gods -- they are tools that, if used properly, can help us tilt the odds in our favor. I like your idea for Big Data to nail context and smart data to help with relevant messaging. In practice, however,"smart data" will tend to wear out successful creative approaches until they become dumb and shopworn. (See Hollywood since 1980 for example after example of this.) There's still a major role for judgment, and courage. Knowing when to trust the data and when to trust your gut is still a big part of the job... at least for now.

  2. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, August 29, 2013 at 4:56 p.m.

    Great points Tom. I agree and believe that the Smart use of Data certainly involves judgments and wisdom and gut and emotion ... so much great creative depends on both art and science.

  3. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff, August 29, 2013 at 5:05 p.m.

    I spent the early part of my career as a writer and creative director. I didn't really get good at it until I got really good at asking questions. In my experience the people who get the best creative are the people who ask the best questions. These are usually stunningly simple ones. Two powerful questions are "OK, but why?" and "so what?" Most often these are asked as snarky rhetorical questions -- but it's amazing how much sharper our thinking can get when we ask these sincerely and with an eye toward genuinely learning.

  4. David Carlick from Carlick, August 29, 2013 at 8:40 p.m.

    I miss Starch reports.

  5. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, August 30, 2013 at 5:01 a.m.

    Big Data basically looks backwards, so it should dominate your short-term, tactical marketing. In fact you can get a huge sales uplift at very low cost by automating some of your tactical marketing (is that what you mean bt smart data?) But Big Data's contribution to your strategic marketing planning should be much less.

  6. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, August 30, 2013 at 8:48 a.m.

    Pete, actually, I think that one of the key values that Big Data brings its ability to look forward and exploit predictive science. That's why I think that it fits well with finding forward-looking optimal media placements. For Smart Data, I think that it's about being more tactically empirical and using data to better inform decisions like contextual evaluation and engagement measurement.

  7. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, August 30, 2013 at 8:52 a.m.

    David, yes. It would be great to see a broad service covering and all of online do Starch historically did for print.

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