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  |  February 10, 2004   |  Comments

Why too much data can be a bad thing.

I was in a colleague's office discussing an account with a few folks when the conversation turned to personal matters. One coworker brought up a situation she'd confided in the group a few weeks earlier. Comical as it may sound, it regarded her inability to sit comfortably due to what she thought was a bruised tailbone.

Several weeks after her initial disclosure, she reported her malady wasn't any closer to being remedied. In fact, a visit to the doctor revealed she has a situation brewing that very well may require some medical intervention. She began to explain the intricacies when another coworker in the room blurted out, "TMI!"

Too much information, indeed.

There's no question hearing intimate details regarding a coworker's derriere should be classified as too much information. Yet the ability to track your client's Web-based sales activity should not be construed as TMI. But alas, I find myself in another situation where the incredible accountability of this medium is somehow turned into a negative.

This isn't a new situation. I recall the whole "latent conversion" flurry in the media about six months ago. I don't remember what conclusions were drawn. But I'm here to dredge it up again and give you a few of my opinions, like it or not.

Whenever this issue is raised, I always revert to a simple idea: The fundamental premise behind advertising is a marketer puts messaging in front of consumers in an effort to encourage them to take a very specific, desired action.

Throughout time, marketers have adhered to this premise with very little proof that, in fact, the people who walk into retail or grocery stores actually saw the advertising. Nonetheless, they kept spending. Sales kept occurring, and it was generally agreed if they didn't spend, sales would decrease.

For the most part, I tend to agree.

So here we are using a medium that can in fact quantify when a person was exposed to our advertising and subsequently completed the intended specific, desired action. The holy grail, yes? Ha.

What about the influence other media had on that action? TV, print, radio? That's the question we hear now, and it was never asked before. Back when a media person sold through a TV and radio plan and sales were good, did the client ever ask for the media person to report sales by medium? Rhetorical question.

I'm fully willing to admit other media influence purchase decisions made on the Web, but they simply cannot be quantified in the same fashion as online can. Because of that, people now dispute the effectiveness of the quantifiable vehicle!

Put another way, many clients now believe they shouldn't attribute an action to a confirmed ad exposure. Doesn't that fly in the face of the general advertising premise discussed above?

Of course it does.

Rather than call into question the accountability of this medium as it relates to actions taken, why not call for increased accountability in other media? If other vehicles were to raise their standards -- rather than have us lower ours -- we'd no longer find ourselves in a position of having too much information. Instead, it would be just the right amount.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Redetzke Mark Redetzke is vice president of online media for Zentropy Partners, a unit of MRM (McCann Relationship Marketing). He's led Zentropy's Minneapolis online media department since 1999, where he develops integrated online contact strategies and oversees all planning and buying. Current clients include Nestle Purina, General Mills, H&R Block, Microsoft, Overture and Sprint. Earlier, Mark planned traditional and online media for Campbell-Mithun. He's a frequent guest lecturer at conferences and graduate advertising and communications courses at St. Thomas University; the University of Minnesota; Minneapolis School of Communication Arts & Design and the 4A's.

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