Advertising Week 2010: Digital Fuses Data, Media Buying


I’m just back from Advertising Week in New York City, where I learned, debated and partied with 65,000 colleagues trying to make sense of the chaos known as digital media.  One of the more interesting events I participated in was “The Data Congress”, a supercilious title for a session on a simple problem: how best to understand and engage the connected consumer.

The event kicked off with a dive into the deep end of the pool.  Dr. AK Pradeep, the CEO of Neurofocus, showed how his company measures the effectiveness of advertising by monitoring consumer brain waves.   Imagine a “brain sensor hat” recording electrical activity along the scalp produced by neurons firing as a person views an ad!  A colleague remarked to me: “Could this be the digital input that enables brand marketers to optimize TV ads in real time?”  I replied: “We’d all have to wear brain sensor caps while watching TV.  That seems like a non-trivial problem.”  He said: “Maybe people would wear the hats if they were attached to 3D-glasses that came with a free 3D TV?”

The next panel pulled back from the brink and went into the traditional media comfort zone – insights about the mindset of the Millenial generation from people at MTV and the like.  I learned, among other things, that “Millenials favor sex over love”.  I was struck by the fact that the research took months to complete, yet seemed pretty obvious.  Surely, there must be a more time and resource efficient way to understand consumers?

And then came my epiphany-of-the-day (inspired by discussion with digital media experts in the last panel):  there is a better way to understand digital consumers!  It comes from the very act of displaying an ad, which creates an imprint of consumer behavior.  And displaying billions of ads across online display, search, mobile, and video, creates a rich fabric of data about how various consumers engage (or don’t engage) with brands.   Advertisers can get low cost, immediate insights into the exact dynamics of their audience by capturing the “data fumes” that are a byproduct of their ad spend.

So why aren’t brands en masse leveraging their own ad data to create consumer insights?  The analytics tools to do so are new, as are the skills required to use them productively.  But ubiquitous digital consumer data, cheap computing power and open-source software have created a tremendous opportunity for smart marketers to change the research game.  As with other industries, digital is changing everything, and market players who don’t proactively invent the future are likely to be excluded from it.  I’ve got a feeling that next year’s Advertising Week activities will feature more revelations about digital, data and analytics.

See you there!

-Mike Baker, President & CEO, DataXu

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