5Qs with Proximic’s Jon Mandel


An industry veteran with over 30 years experience in the advertising world, Jon Mandel, chairman of Proximic and former MediaCom chief, has a wealth of knowledge and opinions when it comes to issues facing advertisers, publishers and the mix of solution providers in between. Jon speaks about the effects of quality data, the tyranny of numbers and how the industry, if not careful, can become the government’s whipping boy.


How has the industry developed in the past few years for better and for worse? 

It’s better and worse. Better in that the industry is getting better at finding data that could increase advertisers’ businesses. Worse in that there are too many organizations doing too many things that may slice the media more finely than advertisers can slice their purchasers. The fragmentation of data and the question of the value of some of that data could overwhelm the cost of the media and cause advertisers to throw up their hands. Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean advertisers will print more money for it. If the ad stack gets too tall it will fall over, and we will all have to somehow climb out of the ensuing rubble. If the data is too expensive relative to the cost of the media, then advertisers will just buy more media and less data.


What is the true significance of data quality and analysis in bottom line brand decisions? 

The old cliché of garbage in/garbage out comes to mind. Data quality is of utmost importance. As an advertiser, bad data can lead you to make a decision that causes you to lose sales and/or waste money. Analysis based on bad data is useless and potentially dangerous. Data quality, in my mind, is more important than anything, especially in the online world. Counting, or data collection, is one thing, but the how and the why, or the analysis, makes what has been counted actionable. Good data can help make sure you have an audience or access to an auditorium filled with an audience that is in the right context to engage with your brand. With bad data, it would be like having a microphone in an empty auditorium. The context of that audience is also important because if the audience is there to see an action film, you better not be showing a chick flick. With good data quality, the analysis can now incorporate the context of what is happening both before…” I thought this was an action movie and it’s really a chick flick”… and after…”That movie sucked, we are only going to romance comedies from now on.” If you only count the data, the number of tickets sold and who attended the previous showing, you can’t truly estimate how many tickets you will sell next Friday and who will go because you need the “why” given by the analysis of the data from the past shows. The context question has been reasonably easy to manage in traditional media, but in the online world with its theoretically infinite content, you need a very elegant and smart technology to make it manageable.


How will the current climate around privacy issues affect the industry?

Tremendously. The industry really messed this one up. It was myopic in a panoptic world. I have spent many years working the halls of Washington on behalf of all facets of the media industry, and the most important thing I learned is that if you aren’t ahead of an issue you will never catch up. This issue is just too easy for politicians to use as a whipping boy. That said, there is a silver lining in every cloud. The silver lining is the way every other medium is bought using contextual data as a driver. (And don’t say they do not have as good data as we do…they do, and in many cases it is better). As the privacy issue limits data collection and thus quality (if even 15 percent of people don’t want data collected then the data is suspect), the need for contextual and other methods increases from nice to have, to being essential and the main event for advertisers. So the privacy issue outcome will make online more like other media forms, making it more usable and thus acceptable as a media to move into from those other media forms.


What does the future hold for data-driven campaigns? 

Depends on the quality of the data and analysis, whether it works with the data from all other media and with a marketers’ own data. Nothing is good in a silo. People don’t live in a silo, they don’t buy in a silo, they don’t consume in a silo. It would be more interesting if your question were re-cast as “What does the future hold for analysis driven campaigns powered by quality data?” The best data will inform before it is later collected by anthropologic and sociologic thinking so that the end results are meaningful.


Any parting shots?

Just because we can build it, doesn’t mean they will come. Just because we can measure it doesn’t mean its right. Engineers can build a bridge to nowhere. We need to make sure that what we are doing in the data business is what is needed, wanted and is impactful to the marketer’s business; and we have to remember there is such a things as the tyranny of numbers. At this point there is so much data that we slice and dice to such an extent that the numbers become the same. It’s like the kid with the calculator who keeps pressing the square root key. Remember also that the numbers are only so important. Research over the years has shown that effectiveness in advertising is no different than any other human communication. It is not what you say, it is what the other person hears. Context matters. Asking someone out on a date at the same time they are dealing with a death in the family is not going to get you anywhere, and a proposal in a dark alley often leads to arrest or other bad things. Conversely, if the time is right, you can get a date with someone that you would never have expected to because you approached them at the right time, in the right way, and hey, if they are the right person it will be a match made in heaven.


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