Thursday, February 14, 2008

Creative Is The New Data

Last week at the OMMA Mobile Conference in New York, David Verklin of Carat was quoted as saying, “Data is the new creative.”

I believe that it was approximately six months ago that David was quoted at another conference saying, “Media is the new creative.” How quickly things change in these digital times.

And far be it from me to argue with Mr. Verklin, but I think a more accurate description of what is occurring today is that Creative Is The New Data.

Which may very well stop a few people from wanting to be on the creative side of the equation. The creative side, after all, was always the hippest side of the fence. Where most of the fun occurred. While clients often said things like, “Oh, those crazy creative guys,” seldom was this mentioned in reference to media. Or, heaven help us, research.

After all, creative was, for the most part, unaccountable. It’s easy to be hip and to have fun when you’re not really held accountable for results, isn’t it?

But in the digital marketplace, creative can be held accountable. At least, video creative.

This is a big change. Up to now, we would run a thirty-second spot in front of thirty million people and not really know whether viewers watched five seconds out of thirty, or thirty-out-of-thirty.

Nor, to be perfectly honest, did we care.

Effectiveness was based on impressions. Reach and frequency. How many saw something. We bludgeoned our way into the hearts and minds of consumers. Or, at least, into their programming. Spend enough and the old sales meter would push to the right. There was a semblance of cause and effect.

We bought the myth.

Myth’s die in the digital marketplace. Simply because with the fragmentation of the viewing audience and control shifting to the viewer, we cannot buy enough “cause” to get enough “effect.”

You probably all remember Marshall McLuhan’s famous quote. No, not that one. This one. “Our age of anxiety, is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools.”

Reach and frequency are yesterday’s tools. We can no longer pretend to believe that we can determine the effectiveness of a commercial based on impressions. But we can base it on one of the great new tools that digital technology has afforded us.

Transparency.

Not only in regards to who is watching what. But in regards to how long they are watching for.

We can now determine whether a viewer did indeed stay for five seconds out of thirty. Or thirty-out-of-thirty.

And I think most would agree that of the two options above, the latter would be declared to be the more successful.

The question that always arises is, how does viewer time-spent lead to sales? What is the direct correlation? What is the Return on Investment?

And I think the right answer is, that’s the wrong question. At least, at this point. Benchmarks are now being set that, in six months or so, will allow that answer to be made in a more definitive way.

But for now, and who knows, perhaps forever, time-spent isn’t how one measures sales. Time-spent is about how an advertiser measures the effectiveness of his/her branding campaign online.

There is an assumption, an incorrect assumption, that online is a retail platform. The fact is, online is a branding platform. In the past, we assumed that branding was about broadcast and reach and frequency. That through reach and frequency, we were able to build relationships with consumers.

Wrong.

Broadcast is where brands build awareness. Broadband is where brands build advocates.

Branding is about building trust between consumers and companies/products. Trust is built up by creating relationships. To create a relationship requires that time be spent together.

That’s why whether a viewer spends five seconds with a thirty-second spot, or thirty seconds, is critical.

And why time-spent, as a metric, is important.

Time-spent is a way to make branding accountable online. Those publishers and ad networks that release the time-spent data will be able to tap into more branding budgets. And, in turn, become more successful.

After all, they will be able to offer their clients a measure of success.

Obviously, this means that creative will, for the first time, be able to be held accountable. Those good at the creative craft will welcome this. Their impact can now be measured. And, for the first time, properly rewarded.

On the other hand, those who realize their work is mediocre will be exposed. Not just by their peers. But, by the data.

So, in this way I guess David is right. Data is the new creative.

But only because creative is the new data.

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