Madison Avenue has been transformed by the emergence of Big Data, now it’s betting big on data to transform itself. Publicis’ $4 billion acquisition of Epsilon, on the heels of Interpublic’s $2 billion acquisition of Acxiom, and Dentsu Aegis Network’s $1.5 billion acquisition of Merkle, comes as another big agency holding company, WPP, is expected to shed part of its investment in the kind of insights that used to fuel advertising and media -- primary research -- vis a vis a partial sale of Kantar later this year.
The restructuring of the holding companies mirrors an overall shift away from old school insights created via research, human judgement and gut, toward one that is data-driven, algorithmic and, ultimately one that leans heavily on machine logic.
As author Ken Auletta so eloquently characterized it in his extraordinary examination in “Frenemies,” it is the shift from “Mad Men to Math Men.”
It also comes as conventional agencies face more competitive threats from big consultants than ever before (note Accenture’s acquisition of Droga 5).
Interestingly, the Big Data restructuring of Madison Avenue, makes one of the big holding companies stand out even more for its neutral approach -- Omnicom -- which is betting big on people-based insights vs. data-based ones.