Sometimes Data Don’t Mean A Damn Thing

Last week, I declared in no uncertain terms that the consumer of media is at the heart of every ad vehicle. Be it online or offline, a media vehicle designed exclusively around an advertiser is not a sound practice. It is audience that always has, and always will, matter most.

Though most of what I heard from you faithful readers regarding the position I took was positive, some still had questions (and good questions at that) about how audience is identified and what constitutes that audience’s value.

We are in an era where there is ever-increasing import given to the most minute piece of data, each bit a step closer to the “perfect target.” The problem is, sometimes we get too caught up in data and not caught up enough in what the data actually means. We think more about the technology producing the data rather than the data it produces. In our attempt to develop the perfect picture of the perfect target, we find ourselves in the trap of Zeno’s Arrow: if you continuously halve the distance to the bull’s-eye, you will be lost in eternity, forever getting closer to the target, but never actually reaching it.



So finding that audience and determining its value is an important and difficult task. In the online media space, it requires robust technology and highly interpretive skill sets using the data coming from these technologies to identify audience and establish its value to an advertiser. The questions start to mount when one wonders about just who owns the data generated from audience activity, how it is applied, and what kind of value the media associated with this audience actually has.

The 3rd Party Ad Server

The 3rd party ad server DOESN'T own the data exclusive of the advertiser who ran a campaign. At no time has a 3rd party ad serving solution provider denied me access to the data that is produced from an advertiser's online campaign. 3rd party ad serves are not responsible for the commodification of online media. That is a function of tons of supply and little demand coupled with the pervasive belief that one impression is as good as any other; value differentiation is not often made in the mind of the buyer of the media. The 3rd party ad server is just a machine; it is neither a methodology nor a philosophy.

That said, the data that can be collected through the use of 3rd party ad servers could be invaluable when plied with the proper intelligence. I believe it was Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of StarcomIP, who once said, "Data, data everywhere; can someone help me think." Remember, data is meaningless if it isn't turned into information that can be used. The data, though proprietary, is pretty easy to come by. Any one of us can get data about how campaigns for certain categories of advertisers may have performed, with better and more robust data coming form internal stores. The key is the information developed out of that data and how it gets used.

Competitive Information

There is nothing that you can do about other advertisers going after audiences you may have exposed with your advertising; that's simply how the game is played. I would posit, even, that media vendors would PREFER the accessibility of advertiser data to other would-be advertisers. It's a great way to get more business. I've had countless sales pitches that always include a statement detailing which other advertisers have purchased inventory with the property in question. Just ain't no mountain high enough to hide the info.

The Farce of One-to-One Marketing

Finally, a point about advertisers and media companies quick to hoard user data collected from a campaign run so that them, and only them, can develop a unique relationship with each and every living soul that has come into contact with the messaging. There is a reason no one is really doing this, and those that have tried aren't really that successful. Because, first of all, it would cost billions of dollars to develop a unique value proposition and a vessel to carry it for each and every individual that may have caught a whiff of your initial introduction. Secondly, people aren't THAT different when it comes to buying stuff. Kleenex doesn't need to coddle 100 million different people in 100 million different ways to get them to become loyal customers. Why? Because there are only so many ways to blow your nose. If we are going to get anywhere in this biz, we MUST give up the myth of one-to-one marketing.

One can hardly argue that data and its application can go a long way towards identifying audiences and lending them value, but we must be clear on just what kinds of data are actually meaningful. Machines alone are not going to solve complex problems regarding online advertising. Advertising is a human endeavor and only humans are going to figure out how to make it work.

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