In the Big Data Era, Content Is Still King

By Dorian Benkoil April 29th, 2015

A curious thing happened at a recent conference on media measurement, big data, technology, and ad targeting: Speaker after speaker touted the importance of creating great content.

It’s not enough, they said, to have technology send an ad to the right person for a product they might want on a screen they happen to be viewing. That message has to be deftly crafted.

“You can get the right eyeballs in the right time, the right format, and if you put something crappy there,” it’s all for naught, Daniel Slotwiner, director of advertising research at Facebook, said in one panel at the conference, called PeopleFront, hosted by media measurement company Simulmedia.

There were no silly arguments about whether content is “king.” The audience of about 300 media professionals at New York’s Paley Center was too sophisticated for that. They talked of the importance of content, distribution, measurement, and technology. But many of the assembled—from brand marketers to TV network advertising executives to leading media-measurement experts from companies like Datalogix and Nielsen—agreed that great material is a fulcrum on which all else rests.“If you don’t have a creative product at the core, you can talk about data all you want and you’re still sort of stuck,” said Fox Broadcasting’s EVP of marketing, Laurel Bernard. Or, in the more blunt words of Discovery’s EVP of ad sales, Sharon O’Sullivan: “Data is great, but if creative fails, then who cares?”

One of the conference’s more humorous—and unusual—moments came from an actor playing a construction worker named Marty, who talked of loving certain TV shows but hating some of the ads he sees.

“When I turn on the TV, do I have to see twelve women’s shoes commercials in an hour?” he asked. “I’m the guy who’s buying your stuff, watching your ads, liking your Facebook pages. So you kind of need to know what I’m saying. … I want better ads, please.” Simulmedia CEO Dave Morgan promised Marty he’d get better ads, whether on TV, phone, tablet, or computer.

Can great content scale?

While Morgan can promise that the means of targeting people across all their devices will continue to improve for marketers in an increasingly fragmented media universe, executing those placements is not a trivial task.

Marketing execs are grappling with getting their creative teams—from in-house writers and producers to external creative agencies and production houses—not only to tell the right stories seamlessly across all media at a high level of quality, but also to do so cost-effectively.

“How do you make high broadcast-quality video, more of [it] faster and cheaper, and who is going to help us drive those costs down?” asked Karna Crawford, SVP and head of marketing strategy and digital at JPMorgan Chase.

There’s no technology that can make sure a brand’s myriad executions have a unified message, no app that ensures a piece of content will hit the right emotional tone. Ultimately, brands need talented people to ensure that content is high quality—whether it’s a 15-second TV spot, a much longer YouTube video, or an 800-word article.

Once the content issue is solved, though, measurement tools are emerging to make content more efficient by helping target the right audience, and even tell which versions of an ad work best with each user. Facebook is working on what they call “pre-tests” to help glean what content will be most effective at driving ROI, so that advertisers can get better ROAS (return on ad spend).

Data needs people, too

But whether content is king or shares the ruling dais with other major media disciplines, it’s still—for now at least—people who have to create and manage it.

It’s also people who have to interpret and act the data. As I sometimes say when clients ask for traffic spikes: Bikini-clad babes can get great numbers, but is that the traffic you want? A thousand of the right views might mean more than 100,000 of the wrong ones. In the era of big data, there is such a thing as a “gut check.” And in the era of “big content”—a term apparently coined in February for an article by IAB’s Randall Rothenberg—people are the key to making content that works.

Image by Deb Wenof
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