blog header image

Getting Clarity is Getting Harder; But We Must

Tom Sullivan

January 31, 2017
Tom Sullivan

I just returned from a conference for agency CEOs on the Future of Advertising, sponsored by Magnet, the Marketing and Advertising Global Network.  One subtheme that emerged is the difficulty of gaining a clear picture of the facts in an increasingly complex world.  There is a near obsession with big data, real time metrics and analytics.


This obsession exists not just in the marketing industry, but in healthcare, education, and the corporate world in general.  With all the attention and technology investments being poured into making data available, you would think that getting to the underlying facts would be getting easier.


Unfortunately, it seems to be getting harder, at least in the short term. Here are some reasons I think this is so.


1. The Pace of the Digital AdTech Revolution– Digital advertising spending on all platforms now exceeds television spending. The programmatic ecosystem which facilitates the buying and selling of digital ad inventory has exploded into a multi-layered and complex system of inter-dependent players.

Agencies have a responsibility to optimize the client’s digital ad budgets to ensure the most relevant messaging reaches the right audiences.  Clients are calling for more transparency into the execution costs of the various sub-players, including data sourcing and management companies that enrich audience profiles and targeting.  While CPM trends have been moving toward delivering efficiencies to clients, a lack of transparency in cost and value hurts everyone in the long run.

2. The Metrics and Data Science Industry is Behind – Nielsen just postponed, for the second time in a year, the launch of Total Content Ratings to measure cross-channel audience scores. Publishers are pushing back saying it’s not ready for prime time. My sense is that some of this may be driven by the fear of who the new winners and losers will be.


3. Human Judgements – Clients and publishers are also arguing about what percentage of a digital ad should be viewed before counting it as a rating. Hardliners arguing for 100% of display and view time are losing ground to those who recognize the value of a brand impression that can be delivered to the human memory in .25 seconds. Who’s right and where this lands will hopefully depend more on the science of measurement and not power.

4. The Echo Chamber Effect – This is a big concern we should all be paying attention to. Paul Squirrel of Network One (a partner network with 1,000 agency members around the world) talked to the ad executives about the echo chamber effect. While the Internet democratizes the access and flow of information, the AdTech world, led by Google and Facebook, is structured to deliver the content that reflects our individual behaviors, interests, and ideological preferences.

This is good for advertisers and consumers because relevancy equals convenience and the saving of time and money.  But is it good for social and political conversations if we are not involved in informative conversation with people who hold differing points of view?  The speed of audience amplification of extreme points of view on both the right and the left may create more damaging effects on society than the positive change most say they want.


Big data is an incredible resource. However, without recognizing what is muddying the waters, we will never get any closer to the clear picture we want to create of our audiences, or the messages that will best get their attention without leaving them ill informed.