Why data is a game-changer in media – right now!

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OP-ED BY BEACONS JUDGE ANTONY YOUNG: In Ken Auletta’s The New Yorker article, How the Math Men Overthrew the Mad Men*, he brazenly claimed that data and science are now more important to the ads and creativity as the currency for advertising.

I was excited by what he wrote but careful not to jump too quickly onto the bandwagon. After all, predicting the demise of the advertising establishment makes enticing click bait, and often the reality in New Zealand can be a world away from what takes place in New York.

But from what I saw as a judge at this year’s Beacons, New Zealand’s media industry’s awards data is indeed an advertising game changer. And what was clearly evident is that data is integral to enabling some of the industry’s most impressive media campaigns. 

Best Use of Data used to be one of dullest and most technical categories to judge. I judged this award category a couple of years ago and at the time I had to admit it was the equivalent of doing my high school maths homework.

In contrast this year, the quality of the finalists was outstanding. It was worth noting that three of the four medal winners in this category went on to be gold winners in numerous other award categories.

Thousands of personalised media plans to influence unsuspecting gift buyers
We saw many examples where data wasn’t just the results at the end, but make possible increasingly more sophisticated media strategies.  

Take the Christmas promotion for Flight Centre. Knowing that travel planning is usually a joint decision, their agency (FCB) had to figure out a way to secretly get a gift receiver the holiday Christmas present she wanted. Their strategy was to collaborate with the gift receiver to secretly influence her partner.

They approached gift receivers via the Flight Centre’s email database to draw them in on the secret plan. By asking them to send to their partner a link to a Lonely Planet top ten holiday locations article this enabled them to plant a cookie on his computer.

“Best Use of Data used to be the dullest category to judge. I judged it a couple of years ago – it was like doing my high -school maths homework.”

From there they launched thousands of personalised campaigns to the gift receivers’ partners (i.e. the gift givers) via a series of subliminal digital media cues and advertising nudges to:

  • Seed the idea of an overseas holiday as a potential gift option.
  • Promote the location their partner would prefer.

The gift giver would then see a range of different advertising messages. Some examples included: native ads in the NZ Herald headlined, “Stuck for Christmas gift ideas? You need to read this!” with a link to an article that proposed an overseas trip as a holiday gift.

Other prompts included sponsored posts in his FB and Instagram feed like “beach holidays – the perfect gift for a loved one”.

The Flight Centre campaign extended into Search. When he Googled phrases like “perfume as a gift”, he would see dynamic search ads: “Thinking about perfume – why not take her to Fiji?”

This smart use of data made an improbable, difficult-to-execute campaign possible, directly driving millions of dollars of holiday bookings.  

Data helping to save our native forests
The level of precision of media campaigns is increasing dramatically thanks to data. The Ministry or Primary Industries campaign is a stunning example of how a data enabled strategy helped to hit each person, at the precise location, in the right moment with the most relevant message, and repeating that over and over again.

The MPI tasked its agency team to develop a campaign to save our precious Kauri forests. Scrubbing footwear before entering the forest was a simple but crucial step to preventing diseases from threatening our native forests.

Signage at the forest entry points were proving ineffective because people believed that it was someone else that was the problem, so it didn’t apply to them. Also, a conventional advertising awareness campaign would have been too costly and likely just wouldn’t cut through.

Instead they created a mobile geo-targeted plan using precise location data to target messaging in the 70+ Kauri forests in the country.  They layered in seven different 2nd and 3rd party data sources to identify dozens of different visitor profiles.

This included data captured off airport wifi stations, language browser and google map searches to identify tourists and their nationalities. They extracted user data from the likes of Facebook, Google, TradeMe and Experien to identify if they were local hunters, joggers, school children, dog walkers or local Iwi members.  Then they customised messages.

  • Targeting local Iwi: ‘Stand up’ translated in Maori to ‘E tu, save our Kauri’ with an image of one of the 10 oldest and most sacred Kauri trees named ‘Tanenui’
  • Targeting dog walkers: ‘If you’re out walking and have a dog, always keep it on a lead and scrub…’ plus a dog pictured in a Kauri forest
  • Regional messages targeting locals: ‘Save our Waitakere Kauri’ featuring prominent local Kauri suffering the dieback disease.

“They created a mobile geo-targeted plan using precise location data to target messaging in the 70+ kauri forests, layering in seven different 2nd and 3rd party data sources to identify dozens of different visitor profiles.”

In all there were 80+ different creative messages delivered at hyper local spots in proximity to the forest.

This campaign delivered precision audience targeting, personalised messaging and location specific ads.  This added up to over 80 different creative executions. This mobile campaign was able to raise forest visitor compliance to 94%.

Your data, my data, their data.
The successful companies aren’t just relying on Google or Facebook’s data to plan their campaigns. They’re crawling through their own data, matching that with other data sources to deliver the perfect picture of their target audience.

The electricity retailer sector in this country is one of the fiercest with competitors spending millions of dollars vying to win over new customers to switch to them only to see current customers depart.

That leaky bucket is a drain on profitability with churn rates in the industry around 20%. That’s why it was refreshing that the media team focused their advertising budget on saving customers.

Combining over 17 data sources, ranging from contact centre information and billing, to media data it gave them the insight to be able to ‘pre-empt the customers when they were most likely to consider shifting and explore other competitors in the market with an offer that stopped them leaving. They were able to reduce churn levels by 47% among their high value customers.

Re-marketing, re-invented
Remarketing is a tactic that is common practice in the industry. You visit a site, say a clothing retailer, and then for the next two weeks you are bombarded with ads reminding you of items you viewed or placed in the shopping cart to come back and buy it.

They’ll annoying, but they work! DJ software company Serato took that idea to another level. By collecting user data of their software they were in turn able to identify the specific hardware they used for their gigs. They used this data to deliver the perfect media plan.

For every contact, they were able to recommend the exact product to buy or upgrade to without them visiting a single website page! They created a marketing system that increased the return on investment substantially.

We are entering an exciting phase in the media industry, and thanks to this shift in focus on data seeing more creative and innovative strategies that we couldn’t imagine possible even a few years ago.

About Antony Young
Antony Young was a judge at this year’s Beacon Awards. He.is former ceo of Optimedia and Mindshare in New York and is co-founder of The Digital Café based in Wellington that advises SME businesses on digital marketing.

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