What Is The True Value of Big Data In Advertising?

The Sell-Sider” is a column written by the sell-side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Jim Spanfeller, CEO, Spanfeller Media Group, a new age media company.

Today’s media buyers and sellers are playing on a whole new field, where preying on consumer behavior is the norm and big data is the apparent vehicle to do so. For buyers, big data comes with big expectations, which are repeatedly being met under false pretenses. The harm of such a facade is especially serious when considering the fact that millions of dollars are being thrown at the acquisition and management of this information. Media buyers don’t have the time to investigate algorithms, nor do they have the skill-set to fully comprehend them, leaving plenty of room to be oversold and over-promised.

Given the amount of money being shelled out for mass data retrieval and evaluation, it begs the question: what is the return on investment? And of course this opens the door to what is actually being measured…a click or actual brand lift or best yet, true sales?

While the age of big data reflects brands’ reliance on quantifiable records, it also exhibits a discomfort towards those immeasurable goals, like brand recall and recognition. Companies are less than willing to pay for ads that weren’t purchased as a direct result of some sort of consumer stalking, which could be a grave mistake.

Take the automotive industry for example. I am told advertisers targeting new car intenders can buy upwards of 25 million individual cookies for a campaign, yet only 14 million or so new cars are bought or leased in America each year. One is left wondering if there was any value at all in those cookies…There are similar issues with targets as simple as gender…perhaps not quite so bad but still even a 20% miss on something so basic is a head scratching moment.

All this is not to say marketers should buy a high volume of expansive placements and cross their fingers. There is certainly value in targeting cookies from site to site, but buyers are missing the mark if they disregard the environment where an ad is being placed.  We can’t forget the other buzz word that makes marketers almost as bombastic as big data -– content. Which is ironic, considering content is consistently ignored in light of all the cookies.

As opposed to spending one’s ad dollars on digital footprints in irrelevant, extraneous places, there is a reliably truer and greater value in targeting content-driven platforms where end users have self-selected themselves to be in the “target.”

More than a placement, contextual websites allow ads to become part of the overall user experience – heightening the brand’s visibility and linking solutions to content-generated thoughts and opinions. The marketer accomplishes a complete notion alignment here, securing a strategic attentiveness to the brand as opposed to limiting itself to a hopeful click-thru.

BT is one-dimensional in what it does for a brand. While hyper-targeted through the increased use of cookies, the ad itself might exist in a place that isn’t magnifying the product offer. What companies should consider is the platform where their ad is living. Is it a place where users are thinking about the product genre? Is the content of a quality that your brand is willing to neighbor? Are you being showcased as a solution to a problem and/or opportunity that the content has introduced?

Without a doubt, data and targeting are part of the digital future – the promise is great.  But we have to keep in mind that context will always be important…and that the quality of the data is a key factor (just as the quality of the context is).  Clearly the best of all worlds is high quality data used to hyper target in a set list of contextually relevant high quality editorial environments.  This thinking is not breakthrough in any way of course…which is all the more reason why one has to wonder why we are not practicing it with more regularity.

Follow Jim Spanfeller (@JimSpanfeller) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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