Mo’ Data, Mo’ Problems

Increasingly, it seems that media planning is becoming a science; you only have to look at the number-oozing reports. Clients love numbers and agencies love pandering to these needs. Yet in the words of the great scientist and media thinker, Albert Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted, counts”. Still, some disagree.

There is no denying that as the guardians of media, agencies have a responsibility to provide data to clients. However, this can also sometimes mean saying “no” and guiding clients in the right direction. Given the amount of data digital media can track and report on, now more than ever it is quite easy to get lost, especially if the data is not particularly useful or actionable. Problems start to arise when agencies misinterpret data, or worse, count the wrong thing altogether.

When advertisers measure everything they possibly can, complexity gets in the way of clarity. Another potential outcome is underestimating key performance indicators (KPIs) due to the sheer amount of data-points being tracked. Simply put, too much data leads to paralysis and agencies need to find the right balance that gives clients a solid grasp of media performance while being helpfully minimal.

Impressions are one such measure, often touted as the cross-platform media currency of choice in the absence of a better alternative. When it comes to quantifying impressions, in the past few years we have seen the bar being raised from dated concepts such as “opportunity to see” to a shift towards “likelihood to see”, eventually we will be able to track ads that are actually seen. The underlying assumption here is that an ad seen is an ad registered in an audience’s mind. Given the amount of messages we are exposed to everyday, this may not always be the case.

With that being said, there are ways to reduce the risk of ad blindness, two of my previous blog posts focused on how to evoke strong emotional responses and engage multiple senses for more memorable branded experiences. Understanding human behaviour in the context of media consumption, whether on an individual or group level is an art and a science. As an industry, we have a long way to go and come to terms with what we cannot measure. Quite a few questions remain unanswered:

How do you quantify loyalty?

How do you report on delight?

How do you measure a good story?

How do you determine an apt telling?

How can we optimize for awesomeness?

…and yet some still insist media is merely a science.