Media Playground: 'Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted'

15 Jun 2012  |  Julie MacManus 

Data has a played a major role in the business success stories of recent years (think Google, Facebook and Amazon) but it has also been responsible for the destruction of entire industries. The panel at Media Playground 2012's Data Debate opened by considering the impact they believed that data has had on the advertising marketplace.

Michael Bayler, strategist and author, Bayler & Associates, argued that while the expansion of available data has improved marketing value it hasn't been proven that it is good for advertising.

The News International position, laid out by its digital integration & automation manager Addib Razzaq, is that data should be used to demonstrate more value in your consumers to provide a premium offering rather than using it to simply drive down costs in the way that networks and agency trading desks have been doing.

David Schruers, head of media at Essence, countered that data is intrinsic to making good ads because the ability to tailor advertising to suit the context of the user can only be a good thing. And lastly, Chris Stark, director of product at Infectious Media, highlighted how complex it has become to process the vast amounts of data that is now available.

Piers North, head of strategy at Yahoo!, argued that media owners should be trying harder to demonstrate their value and warned the online industry about the dangers of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. While data has been used to great effect in the direct response arena, the industry has not resolved the issue of attributing a value to online display advertising beyond direct action. Companies such as Stark's Infectious Media are trying to work with advertisers to produce attribution models. Razzaq claimed that the lack of attribution is a key barrier to persuading advertisers of the true worth of their proposition.

Could data be accused of having a corrosive effect on quality content? How can News International continue to fund the production of quality journalism while the cost of online advertising is continually being driven down for example? While Razzaq argued that people go online for content not advertising, Bayler worried that the way in which data provides us with an individual experience suited to our current interests is becoming more useful to us than the content itself. If relevance rather than content becomes the primary concern, then content's perceived value will decline and, along with it, the value of advertising.

Bayler likened traditional TV advertising to being stopped in the street by someone you vaguely know who tells you a really good joke. After the initial disruption, the experience turns out to be a good one. However, behavioural targeting is more like being stopped in the street by a disturbed person who knows your name and where you live!

North argued that advertising is not served to individuals but just based on browsing history, though the panel broadly agreed that the perception of being targeted individually remains and that people require a fair value exchange in the advertising process for it to remain effective. Young people in particular, said Schruers, are happy to give out a significant amount of data if they are getting value from it and he doesn't believe this will change as they get older - there has been a cultural shift.

When Greg Grimmer asked the panel "who should own the data?" there was disagreement about how much emphasis on ownership there should be. Razzaq thought that the question of ownership is not as important as what you do with data and how good it is. North, however, sees it as a crucial issue. While Yahoo! collaborates with many data partners, such as Nectar and Experian, it remains fiercly protective of its own data, which provides it with a key business advantage.

Finally, Jaqui Hill from 1000heads wondered why nobody on the panel had mentioned applying insight during the data debate. The panel agreed that crucial insights can be dervived out of data and that it can also be used to validate insights and that this should sit where the science and art of advertising meet. Nigel Walley summed up with the final tweet on the subject: "'Big data vs Insight' Well done the lady from 1000 Heads. Good qual insight trumps an algorithm every time. #MTPlayground".

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