U.K. and U.S. Agencies Throw Cold Water on Standards for ‘Black Box’ Data

LISBON, PORTUGAL–The ongoing tension between brands and agencies about adopting industry-wide data standards was on display this week at the I-COM measurement event. Earlier today, Steve Simpson, global leader of business planning at Mindshare Worldwide, threw cold water on any hopes brands might harbor that agencies like his were ready to show their clients exactly what kind of data they are buying.

“I don’t believe we’ll talk about a single group for everything on the Internet,” Simpson said. “The idea of a single currency across the Internet doesn’t work.”

The standards – or online planning “currency” as Simpson and other insiders call it – would in theory afford brand advertisers a view into the specific data their agency acquires on their behalf, for the purpose of media buying. Some believe it would open up the possibility of brands naming their own price for data from consumer panels and other sources. Unilever and Procter & Gamble would be among the companies with the most to gain because of their aggressive display buys on ad networks and exchanges. For example, big CPGs would like to avoid paying high sums for ads that run on sites they believe to have a low ROI value.

J.Donahue.jpgDuring the last panel of the three-day event, John Donahue, a global director for Omnicom Media Group USA, (pictured right) was much more blunt than Simpson while fielding a question from the audience about opening up the so-called “black boxes” – a term that refers to the attributes, often unknown to clients, of any given media buy. For agencies, Donahue said supporting transparency standards would be tantamount to giving up their negotiating power.

“That would be like going to a car lot and telling [the salesman] how much you’ve got in your checking account. You know you are going to get a car for that amount,” he said. “Do I want standards, as in what I’m ‘mashing up’ and [what] it’s being used for? No. I am a buyer. I don’t want people to know how I am measuring the efficacy or value of something because then they’ll charge me one penny below that value.”

Among the many agency speakers, the only ones who clearly indicated support for standardization/common currency were from France and Germany. As was the case with Donahue and Simpson, reps from U.S. and U.K. agencies typically did not.

During one Q&A session, an attendee prefaced his question by poking fun at a director for a U.K. agency: “Isn’t it ironic that the only person on the panel [who is against industry-wide standards] is from the country that wasn’t in favor of common currency when it came to the Euro.”

Uncomfortable-sounding chuckles went through the room of around 120 attendees.

ClickZ is a media sponsor of the I-COM conference. Our travel and accommodation expenses were paid by the event’s producers.

Related reading