Last Wednesday morning I had the pleasure of hearing Rita Ferro, president of Disney sales, and Kristi Argyilan, president of Target's media agency Rondel, speak to what went behind their historic deal to partner over first party data, during their keynote at Advertising Week New York.
The essence of the deal is this: advertisers who build their audiences with Roundel can now extend multi-touchpoint attribution capabilities across the entire Roundel universe, which now includes linear TV on Disney television properties, including ABC and ESPN.
To put it in very plain terms, when they run a television ad on Disney's channels, advertisers can now track exactly how many people really saw the ad and then went to a real Target store and bought the real product.
This deal received a fair amount of attention during Advertising Week. It has all the right hallmarks of newsworthiness: new business models, first-party data, and new walled gardens.
It's also easy for skeptics to look at the deal and poke holes: it’s not an objective recommendation, it's not an Amazon-killer, it's not a true representation of an integrated media plan. However, what makes this significant to me is that it is a harbinger of the declining role of traditional agencies in the most critical conversation of all: consumer insight.
Data-driven insights anyone?
If I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “data-driven insights” drop from marketers’ lips, I would not be writing this column right now. It's the number one expectation of any investment in martech or ad tech; it's how every creative advertising case now starts; it's also the number one expectation of the burgeoning field of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
But here is the irony: real, deep consumer insight, the kind that leads to brilliant product innovation and great creative ideas, NEVER comes from an algorithm. I am not disrespecting the technologies that enable deep data analysis, and I'm the last person to claim that creativity and insight will always be the preserve of the creative or the strategist.
We're getting closer and closer to a real view of the whole customer, where we can adjust to market conditions and optimizing to opportunity (whether that is seasonal or cultural). What this does not provide are the leaps and synthesis required to get to bigger insights.
Those insights are only uncovered when you are able to stitch together disparate pieces of data to get a picture of the real person. And that view of the real person is still blocked by data disintermediation.
Smarter, powerful but still behind the walls
To be clear, data has always been disintermediated -- spread among the retailers, the networks, the publishers, the platforms, and up until recently, the agencies. Media agencies were, at one point, one of the best sources for integrated views of the audience.
However, media agencies were slow to catch up to data investments -- they got there eventually -- but continue to struggle to update their integrated data approach. This isn’t my bias -- it’s clear in the ID Comms 2019 Global Thinking Report. The report polled marketers for where media agencies perform best and worst. The lowest score was for “Providing neutral and objective planning recommendations,” just lower than “Integrating owned, earned and paid media.”
The big challenge right now is that data is disintermediated as well as extremely powerful. The Roundel Disney deal only proves that out. '
The mission behind Roundel is to leverage their shopper insights across their own media universe. It's a bigger, more powerful version of a walled garden. It allows those advertisers who can to benefit from audience insights to make their investment in Disney and their sales efforts at Target more effective than ever before. It’s powerful stuff.
Will marketers be able to transfer those learnings to other parts of their media plan? That remains to be seen.
Dust off those soft skills
One very interesting aspect of the conversation with Argyilan and Ferro last week was how careful they were to be inclusive of their creative and media agency partners in this process. Their point was that a collaborative culture across all agency players was the only way that great work was to be achieved.
It's hard to disagree with that perspective and as many agencies struggle with the realities of in-housing and project work, that’s excellent advice. However, what really struck me is that there is no clear owner of consumer insight in the Roundel Disney model. I's the right culture -- sure -- but the ability to identify, synthesize and uncover insights needs clear leadership.
What is clear to me, however, is that there is a massive gap in the market for an unbiased approach to data-driven deep customer insights.
Are agencies well-positioned to grab that role? They have the advantage of a relative lack of bias, stronger soft skills of empathy, imagination, and intuition. The big question mark is whether they have the credibility to play that pivotal role in the marketers’ world. And that is the true battleground.