The real world of data in advertising is complex and varied - is it available, not available or does it need to be generated in a customized way?

Data as a word is just getting bigger. More regular folk talk about it, and whether from sports coaches, to doctors, to nutritionist and to your grocery vendor (think here China's Yihaodian), more data is being processed in 0s and 1s.

But what challenges are agencies and clients facing with all this new data and how will they overcome them?

Any agency person can vouch that the biggest and strongest opponent to data is an “anecdote”. Especially the ones coming from the client side… "My friend… My wife… My mother… does, or does not, do this."

Looking at the data challenge facing advertisers, it’s important to debunk the myth that data used by advertisers is BIG data.

While the data behind programmatic or social media feeds may have facets of big data, most media data is not big data once passed through the lens of the three Vs of Big Data.

Most perceive the variety of media data as a big data challenge, akin to building a 100-story skyscraper. In truth the challenge is more like building 100 one-story buildings or 50 two-story buildings versus just having to build one very tall building.

Media Databases in Today’s World


As evident from the chart above, the challenge today is not of height, but of the breadth signified by variety.

With ever increasing media fragmentation, multiple media has become more important and hence the need for multiple data sources. The challenge thus is of getting everything together.

A lot of agency groups have trialed newsroom concepts, but in my view these are good PR exercise and very tactical in nature. The decision whether (Read more...) spend or not in a medium is not taken in the newsroom, but with pre-analyzed data.

Once the spending decision is taken, a newsroom may influence the timing of it.

For example, if a client is not using social media as part of a media plan, any alert on a newsroom is not going to help in changing that. And that makes fundamental decisions around allocating budgets even more critical.

The obstacles facing the advertising fraternity with new data are two-fold – an awareness or ignorance around existing data sources, and expertise in using the data.

To demonstrate the challenge, let's look at three broad areas where data is used by media agencies/advertisers.

1. Competitor Spending Data: Looking at a competitor is the biggest influence for media decision makers in advertising, guiding them on total spending as well as media mix.

Client Challenge – "Most of my competition is spending heavily on mobile, we should increase our spending to match them."

Reality: Spending on mobile and search are not tracked and most numbers may be guesstimates. Educate the client about those limitations.

Verdict: Data currently not available.

2. Audience Insights / Consumption Data: This is most often data used to make spending decisions across media. Television rating point (TRP), gross rating point (GRP), reach, impressions and unique visitors (UV) form the basis of all media metrics and lead to cost per click (CPC) and cost per thousand (CPM).

Client challenge: “Most of my consumers spend a lot of time on mobile, thus my brand should also be spending higher on mobile.”

Reality: This data is readily available from a variety of sources.

Reach: In China, using data from iResearch / IMMS (Internet Marketing & Media Survey) / CNRS (China National Residents Survey) we can verify exactly how much time a client’s target audience (TA) / target is spending on mobile phones and budget accordingly.

Verdict: Available.


3. Effectiveness Data: This is mostly the Holy Grail and differs by client, category and market. Effectiveness / ROI is based on cost, so if mobile is 50 percent cheaper than PC, even a 60 percent better performance makes it attractive to advertisers.

Client Challenge: “Mobile ads don’t work, they are too small.”

Reality: Data of this ilk needs to be generated for specific client campaigns or composite to form market/device learnings.

Verdict: Can be generated.


The real world of data in advertising is complex and varied and one has to be aware of whether data is available, not available or needs to be generated in a customized way.

To bridge this gap we need to create advertising gurus with T-shaped skills – who have the breadth of knowledge of what’s available and then tapping on each expert to fully exploit the data available.

Our job as agencies is to educate clients on where data can help and then tap on the expertise in how to use it.

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