Art vs. Science

Wendy Millard in her speech at the recent IAB Conference talked about how (wendy millard/IAB Conference) “too much data is the problem and not the solution “. She then went on to talk about how “massive reams of data still can’t create compelling messages, and that (compelling messages) should be the focus of the interactive ad industry”. She also said that “an over-emphasis on measurement is holding back the business.” In addition, Randy Rothenberg in his blog ( ) re-iterates the point saying that on-line advertising, as an industry, has not focused enough on engaging the creative teams at agencies. He goes on to quote Bogart (Strategy in Advertising: Matching Media and Messages to Markets and Motivations) as saying “Advertisements may be evaluated scientifically; they cannot be created scientifically.”

I think that Bogart is right. Science cannot create ads. However, it can only make evaluation so cheap (and precise) that the value associated with creation is declining, at the limit, to zero. Dynamic ad construction tools create infinite combinations of ads combining a variety of copy, images, product information and offers at virtually no cost. With machine learning tools it is then possible to run large scale tests and figure out what ad works best in each situation. In such a process, while there is a role for the “creatives” it is far less valuable than traditional media where “creatives” rule the roost.

I share Randy and Wendy’s conviction that there isn’t enough brand advertising on-line and the medium is well suited to building brands. However, Wendy and Randy seem to imply that data driven advertising has less of a role to play in the context of brand advertising. I disagree. I think that data driven advertising can substantially enhance brand marketing as well. And Dave Morgan’s new start-up, Simulmedia, which is applying data and analysis to improving the effectiveness of TV advertising, is a great example of that (see Dave Morgan:back to the start-up world).

Data driven advertising is here to stay. The art vs. science war is over. And the quants have won!

About Ashu

General Partner with Foundation Capital. Areas of interest range from digital media, mobile and internet infrastructure to all things related to India. Currently on the board of TreeHouse, Aspire, Conviva, Agni and TubeMogul.
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