Drowning by Numbers

Complexity.

The word was uttered with great frequency at DoubleClick’s annual Insight conference this week in New York. Plenty of research and analysis unveiled over the two-day event further added to the mounting pile of irrefutable evidence substantiating interactive marketing’s worth. But that evidence, along with interactive marketing itself, is becoming increasingly complex. Too much complexity makes it hard to make a case for interactive, strong as that case may be.

Offline, marketers have long understood concepts like circulation and reader demographics, where they apply to, say, Time magazine. Online, as Kevin Ryan, DoubleClick’s CEO pointed out, there are over 1,000 versions of Time available to subscribers.

Complexity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is antithetical to basic marketing tenets. Simple, easy to understand messages make for an easier sell. Why do you think movie concepts are pitched (and big-dollar decisions made) with pithy, derivative one-sentence summaries such as “‘Jaws’ meets ‘Jurassic Park’?”

There’s a stupefying number of choices in the interactive space: mountains of data, all kinds of ad formats, media options, software solutions, analytics options, vendors, ways to slice a budget across channels. Recently, it was recommended analysis software be employed by marketers running paid-inclusion campaigns.

All these options (and many more) combine to create a panoply of educated choices that must be made, not to mention the allocation of budgets and manpower. If that’s not a barrier to entry, it can certainly have a deer-in-the-headlights effect on traditional marketers and decision makers — the ones the industry must attract.

Remember that smarmy divide in the bubble-days: those who “got it” and those who didn’t? There’s dramatically more to “get” now than there was then, and it’s not even clear what must be “gotten” and what’s unimportant.

“There’s too much data. Let’s make this as simple as possible,” exhorted Matthew Goldstein, MTV Networks’s VP of sales, at Insight. Holding the contrary viewpoint, DoubleClick’s Steve Tinlin, senior VP of business-to-business (B2B) services for the Abacus database of billions of data points, pooh-poohs that notion. For him, there’s never too much data to crunch.

The divide, of course, is between those who provide interactive solutions and those charged with selling those solutions, most particularly to the traditional advertisers interactive wants to attract.

Some examples of the data emerging to cloud decisionmakers’ heads:

Consumer spending patterns are growing more complex, as a new DoubleClick study on multichannel holiday shopping reveals. Long overdue, the research offers a glimpse into what channels consumers browse, and which ones they later use to make purchases. Over 60 percent are browsing here, buying there. Online comes up a winner in both buying and browsing categories. Yet how marketers should interpret and use these data across promotional channels is not clear-cut. The multichannel spend is becoming more complex as it becomes more necessary to deliver messages to difficult-to-reach consumers.

Other new research is also interactive-affirming, but extrapolating actionable results is terrifyingly complexity. A new cross-media study supports the existing evidence that shifting budgets from TV to interactive significantly raises gross ratings points (GRP). At least the results are in a language TV advertisers speak!

In this study, WebRF, a reach and frequency media planning tool developed by Nielsen//NetRatings and IMS, was used by major advertisers American Airlines, Subaru, and Kraft Foods to model results if campaign dollars were shifted from TV to the Web. The research focused on light TV viewers in the belief this segment was more attractive to marketers. Light viewers are younger, more affluent, more educated, more likely to be professionals, and more likely to be online.

Carole Walker, director e-communications, advertising, and strategy at Kraft said presenting the research was enough to convince her company to shift more dollars into online spending for the upcoming launch of a mega-brand product spinoff. The study convinced Kraft the consumers they needed to reach were more apt to be online than on their sofas soaking up TV. “Usually,” she admitted, “we don’t look at research in that much detail” (italics added).

To bring more major advertisers into the fold, both sides will have to get to work and iron out some of the complexities. Traditional marketers, whether on the agency or client side, must work harder to understand marketing equations more complicated than past models. And agencies, publishers, solutions providers, and others in the interactive arena must become increasingly selective about what data and studies they use to bolster their arguments. Simplicity and streamlining may be the only way to get them to commit dollars, workforce, and resources to support the medium.

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