This is the latest installment in “PII,” a series featuring the talent that makes the wheels turn in our data-driven advertising world. Read previous interviews with talent from Mindshare, Mediavest | Spark, Razorfish, Essence and INNOCEAN.
Digital native Andy Stevens is SVP of research and insights at Clear Channel Outdoor. He works on the Radar initiative, which uses mobile location data to better plan and buy out-of-home (OOH) and retarget users on mobile.
With insights from Radar, Stevens and his team help CMOs prove the effectiveness of OOH advertising, bringing a traditional medium into a digital world.
AdExchanger: Did you always want to work in advertising?
ANDY STEVENS: When I graduated, the career options were banking, consultancy or accounting. A few people went into law. I remember thinking, “I’m not quite sure if it’s me.” I like the business side, but I like being creative as well.
I applied at a bunch of ad agencies and, on a whim, I saw an online advertising company. This was 2000, so online advertising was pop-ups and banners. It was the Wild West and we were the scrappy upstart.
I thought I wanted more of a traditional agency, but the guy who set this up used to be an investment banker. He said, “Trust me, this industry is about to go stratospheric.” It was the best decision I ever made. Within three years the company was acquired by AOL.
I was in love with advertising from the beginning, always more on the data and research side. We often talk about the art and science of advertising. Increasingly important is the science. That’s where my expertise is.
How did you get into OOH?
I got a call from Clear Channel asking, “Have you ever considered working OOH?” Being honest, my initial reaction was, “No, I work in a really hot space. Billboards are not something I’ve considered.” But from the beginning of the conversation to the end, I realized there was this amazing opportunity.
OOH is very visible, iconic and has better recall rates than other forms of advertising. As soon as I realized the opportunities to use mobile to bring OOH into that data ecosystem that’s driven so much innovation in advertising, I got really excited. Location as a data point is becoming hugely important. I think it’s going to be absolutely transformational to all types of advertising.
What personal qualities make you thrive in this role?
I’ve always been interested in people. Ads are part of the psyche. Everyone can think of billboards they’ve seen [that are] almost part of our society, like the Beatles walking across Abbey Road. If you say “gingivitis” to anyone in the States, they’ll know what that ad is. To be part of that creative endeavor is really exciting. Above all else, I love a good problem to solve.
What’s your day-to-day like?
My team and I are responsible for all research and insights across the company. There’s a lot of requests for insights that can help sellers position inventory, [determine] what strategy to use for planning and measure attribution and the impact of a campaign.
A lot of my time is [spent] meeting with clients and data vendors. Some have financial data, some have offline store data. There’s not going to be one that covers all of our needs.
What are the privacy regulations around getting this data?
There are tons. The main one is that it’s completely anonymous. We look at aggregate data to understand patterns. If we can see more people visiting Burger King have passed a board, we can link that back to the OOH exposure. It gives us that ROI metric.
Is data-driven advertising creepy to you?
Marketing is a science of understanding people and what makes a product appeal to somebody. It’s getting into their psyche. If you’re interested in people and what makes them tick, it’s fascinating.
People are always going to have concerns about privacy, which they should. Our business is about appealing to customers, so the last thing we want to do is lose their trust. The guiding principal is a fair exchange. Are you getting free content, services, gift cards or financial incentives?
How do you use data in your daily life?
The best kind of data is when something does some of the work for me. I use Blue Apron for all of my food delivery. You pay a fraction because they’re specifically sourcing ingredients that are in surplus. Without realizing, you end up eating quite locally and seasonally. The data points behind that are incredibly powerful.
What can advertisers and agencies do better when it comes to data?
The challenge is that there’s so much of it. Filtering out the noise and the nugget is really important. We’ve become a little obsessed with knowing every single piece of information about one individual. Everybody has had ads chase them around the internet. We forget that advertising can be a good way to get your message out and reach people who aren’t customers.
When Procter & Gamble came out about [pulling back on Facebook targeting], I was like, “Hallelujah.” We’ve gotten so good at the bottom of funnel that we forget about driving desire in the first place.