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Will the Publicis-Omnicom merger solve the big data riddle?

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Will the Publicis-Omnicom merger solve the big data riddle?
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There was recently some ginormous news in the ad industry where the Publicis and Omnicom holding companies announced a $35 billion mega-merger. But perhaps most surprising wasn’t that the merger took place, but how it was positioned. As reported by the online pub Digiday:

(Omnicom) CEO John Wren explained the merger, saying that gathering, sorting and using data had become a fundamental part of agency work, and combining would help the two agencies do the job better. The new mega agency…would be able to use data at a scale that would put them on par with data rich companies such as Facebook and Google.

Which raises the question: will the merger of a bunch of ad agencies really result in a better use of big data? Not everyone, yours truly included, is convinced that bigger means better. Dave Morgan, the CEO of Simulmedia and a leading voice in the ad technology sector, remarked: “I think it’s a total misdirection to think that you can leverage the scale and advantages of big data if you’re bigger. Quite the opposite.”

Doubts about the effectiveness of big agencies getting a handle on big data were also expressed by Jon Morris, founder and CEO of independent digital marketing agency Rise Interactive, on the pages of DMNews. I think Morris nailed it when he questioned whether the mega-merger portends that anything different will be happening in the future:

Both of them already have access to so much data that they’re not leveraging. So how is merging and becoming a larger enterprise going to help them out more? It’s basically two identical companies merging together. Not one person can point to the technology that Omnicom has or the technology that Publicis has that would speak to how this makes sense from a Big Data standpoint.

Meanwhile, I continue to be surrounded by dumb data.

Personally, what I’m seeing most frequently on my computer screen lately isn’t the much ballyhooed big data, but what I like to call “dumb data”. While some of the banner ads I see may be aiming for the new digital nirvana of showing ‘the right message to the right person at the right time”, what I most often notice are the stalking ads.

I wrote here a few months ago about various companies following me around the Web after I had visited their sites, from a sneaker company to an online MBA school. For instance, back in February I visited the Web site for the Broadway show Pippin. I bought tickets to the show at the theater’s ticketing site and saw it in back in March. Several months later, I am still seeing Pippin banners popping up everywhere I go.

As the online pub Digiday recently opined, these follow-you-everywhere banners are becoming the new equivalent of the pop-up ad. They’re mildly annoying, but judging by their widespread and continued use, they seem to be working. The only danger, Digiday correctly points out, is their overuse:

The industry just needs to hope that consumers don’t become so frustrated with seeing the same pair of shoes for two weeks that they decide to do something about it. Otherwise it’ll only have itself to blame.

Will the new Publicis-Omnicom entity be able to better figure out how to put big data to use—not just to attract new customers but retain and grow existing ones? Personally, I’ll believe it when I see it. And with a new set of banner ads from a hotel chain starting to follow me around the Web, I’ll be glad when they do.

How about you? Do you think there are any agencies, companies or brands who have a real handle on effectively using big data? Can you cite any examples?

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