White House ‘Big Data’ Review Recognizes Innovation and Self-Regulation

When the White House announced its intent to study the rise of “Big Data,” as a citizen, I guessed there might be a lot to say about government surveillance, public safety and terrorism, in light of Snowden. As a consumer, I suspected there might be a lot of attention to data breaches, in light of the recent Target incident among others. As a working individual whose livelihood depends on data access and use for more relevant marketing, I was nervous

When the White House announced its intent to study the rise of “Big Data” and its impact on business, commerce, government and consumer’s everyday lives, with privacy protection as an underlying theme, I have to admit I was bracing myself.

As a citizen, I guessed there might be a lot to say about government surveillance, public safety and terrorism, in light of Snowden. As a consumer, I suspected there might be a lot of attention to data breaches, in light of the recent Target incident among others.

As a working individual whose livelihood depends on data access and use for more relevant marketing, I was nervous there might not be a practical discussion of how information sharing and privacy protection can (and is) successfully provided through a combination of peer regulation, enterprising technology and sector-specific legal regulation where information protection and security is niche-based and designed to prevent harm from data error or misuse (credit, financial, health, for example).

Then the report, titled “Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values” (pdf), was released.

As a citizen, I was left wanting. Government surveillance of law-abiding U.S. citizens is parked for another report, another day. Some reforms have already been announced. Perhaps this is a blessing—there never should have been a link made between government spying and private sector use of data for commercial purposes anyway.

As a consumer, I was glad to see a call for a single national data breach notification standard. A few years back, I received several notices of “my” data being breached in a few months’ span—two of which offered a year’s worth of identity theft and fraud protection (which I continued to purchase on my own). Whether by luck or design, those notices have declined in number—I’ve had none in the past year. As I hear and read about more recent major data breaches, I haven’t been directly affected (to my knowledge), and maybe—just maybe—some organizations and brands in which I’m involved have gotten better about security. (Indirectly, we all pay for fraud—in higher prices for products and services, insurance, bank fees and the like—and perhaps in our collective loss of trust and carefree.)

As a marketer, I have to say I was happily surprised at the clear-headed conveyance of facts and reporting of opinion in this report—and, importantly, the steer-clearance of political grandstanding. I will leave it to our trade associations to comment on the policy recommendations, but as one our industry’s leading practitioners stated in Adweek, “If anyone of my clients wants a 101 on big data, I’m going to send them this report. This report is very relevant because a lot of what drives this business is programmatic media buying. There are millions of places to advertise on the Web, so an algorithm will decide what your likely audience will be.”

The report either cited or recognized such industry initiatives as the Data-Driven Marketing Institute’s “Value of Data Sharing” report, the Digital Advertising Alliance (disclosure, a client) and its own recent research on data sharing’s role in increasing advertising’s value, as well as DAA’s YourAdChoices.com site and consumer opt-out program for online interest-based advertising. There was care to note—even in the report’s title—that innovation is one of the benefits made possible by big data, and that this economic and social value needs to be enabled, if not fully supported and facilitated.

The report did raise red flags about commercial redlining, eligibility issues connected to employment, healthcare, finance and insurance, and data security (as noted)—but these important areas for consumer protection largely are already regulated, and even have industry backing for further regulation in certain areas such as breach notification. Most of these topics don’t have much to do with smarter marketing, even if some privacy advocates and academics hypothesize about that stretch.

Where do we go from here? The report did make several policy recommendations—and while there were some seeking to codify in law Fair Information Practices Principles (a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights), there was no attempt to call for an omnibus privacy protection law that treats all data and all data usage the same. If you haven’t had the chance, give it a read—I actually learned from it, and avoided tears and rage.

Waiting for Justin

While watching The Grammy’s on January 26, I became totally engaged with a new series of TV spots from MasterCard. In them, they suggest that a viewer may get a surprise visit from Justin Timberlake—a priceless surprise to be sure. Feeling optimistic, I quickly ran out to my front porch and made sure the light was on, the doorbell was working, and then I freshened up my lipstick ’cause hey, you never know.

While watching The Grammy’s on January 26, I became totally engaged with a new series of TV spots from MasterCard. In them, they suggest that a viewer may get a surprise visit from Justin Timberlake—a priceless surprise to be sure.

Feeling optimistic, I quickly ran out to my front porch and made sure the light was on, the doorbell was working, and then I freshened up my lipstick ’cause hey, you never know.

I frantically added a post to Facebook, just to alert my friends and neighbors (in case Justin went to the wrong house) that they should redirect him to Chez Goodman.

It seems I wasn’t alone in my efforts, because most of my Facebook gal pals had the same reaction: “Getting out of my sweatpants now,” one friend added, “I’ll be ready!” “He can surprise me anytime,” another one commented.

But the classic post came from my adult son who is, I would surmise, right in MasterCard’s target wheelhouse. Even though I knew he was glued to the Grammy’s, his pithy addition to my post was one word: “Huh?”

Aside from MasterCard missing the mark with the youth audience (ok, I admit that if he was a girl, the reaction might have been different, but that’s 50 percent of your target, MasterCard!), my son didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. He may have been distracted by the antics of fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, but that’s a story for another day.

The spots, it seems, and the accompanying promotional message didn’t even register with him or his roommates.

As I continued to dream about the potential visit from Justin, I started wondering how this promotion might work, because I knew it would be complicated to manage, and a visit to the site with the rules and regulations reaffirmed it: 10,596 words later, I was totally confused.

Of course there was the standard “no purchase necessary” rule (right up front), yet in order to be eligible, you have to be a MasterCard cardholder—wait… isn’t that a “purchase”?

The rules go on to talk about how to enter via Instagram or Twitter using a hashtag #pricelesssurprise. Then folks from teamDigital (who?!) will select 150 potential winners in a random drawing. They’ll then notify those potential winners who will then enter Phase 2 of the contest, which involves creating a 90-second video. A panel of judges (which may include Justin!), will select the Grand Prize Winner based on “Relevance, Creativity and Overall Appeal/Entertainment Value” (translation: it will bode well for MasterCard when aired publicly and will not embarrass Justin) AND (and this is the fun part), the finalists may have to submit to a background or criminal check, answer additional questions and sign releases. I guess they want to make sure that Justin isn’t surprised by some lunatic answering on the first ring!

Net-net, this seems like way too much work for this Justin fan—and that’s probably a good thing because I don’t plan to switch from American Express anytime soon.

So the light may be on, but I may not be home. #SorryJustin.

HULU.COM: An Intriguing Advertising Opportunity

Hulu is a fascinating Web site. Not only can its content be riveting to the viewer, but also represents a highly efficient medium for advertisers, enabling them to close the loop and measure actual ROI.

When I read that Hulu is drawing huge audiences, I went to the Web site and clicked on a movie—”Abel Raises Cain.” It is a 82-minute documentary about professional hoaxer Alan Abel, who was famous in the late 1950s for dreaming up and publicizing the “Society of Indecency to Naked Animals” with the mission of clothing naked animals. Over the years he has duped the media and made talk show hosts look like chumps and generally made a hilarious nuisance of himself with a slew of nutsy-fagen schemes, many of which are chronicled in this film.

This unique Web site offers full-length television shows and motion pictures; viewers remain on the site for a long time, sometimes a couple of hours—a boon for advertisers.

I sat through the entire film, which was presented with “limited commercial interruptions.” The TV-type commercial advertisements ranged in length from 10 to 30 seconds. Among the advertisers:
“Angels and Demons” (upcoming Tom Hanks film)
Nestea Green Tea
Honda Insight
Healthful Cat Food, Purina
Sprint Now Network
Swiffer Cleaner
Coldwell Banker

Returning to “Abel Raising Cain” on another day, I found additional advertisers:
American Chemistry Council
BMW Z4 Roadster
Toyota Prius
Panasonic Viera
Plan B Levenorgestra
Citi

At the end of this blog is a screenshot snapped during the BMW commercial. As you will see, the moving picture area takes up about half the computer screen, leaving a blank area above. At upper left is the film title, running time and the number of stars by reviewers. At upper right is a small response box that shows the car, the BMW logo and the headline:
The all-new Z4 Roadster
An Expression of Joy.

In light gray mousetype are two words: “Explore now”—the hyperlink to more information.

Once the commercial is finished and the film resumes, this little box remains on screen until the next commercial interruption. Then the next commercial’s response box stays on the screen. For the advertiser, this represents his presence onscreen for far longer than the 10-30 seconds allotted in the commercial.

Further, Hulu combines the razzle-dazzle of action-packed TV commercials with the advantage of direct marketing. The prospect clicks on the box, the advertiser has a record of the response to that commercial and that venue. This closes the loop: ad — response to ad — further info requested — and (hopefully) sale. The advertiser can do the arithmetic, measure the sales and determine whether the ad more than paid for itself or whether it was a financial loser.

This is far more valuable than running an ad on old-fashioned TV and hoping that people (1) have not left the room for a potty break and (2) will remember the thing when they are at the car dealer or supermarket.

What a direct marketer would do differently:
1. The response box at upper right is tiny compared to everything else going on. If Hulu wants happy advertisers, it should at least double its size, so that it is immediately obvious what to do.

2. The advertisers must make a terrific offer—something Free, for example—so the movie watcher is impelled to leave the film and go for the freebie. Or download a $500 certificate. With the tiny box and mousetype, these advertisers seem almost ashamed to ask you interrupt your movie to see what they have to offer. “Learn more” or “Explore now” in teeny-tiny light gray mousetype is not a compelling call to action.

3. My sense is that Hulu may be a tremendously efficient and relatively low-cost medium for testing TV commercials. Run an A-B split where one viewer gets the A commercial and the next viewer gets B and so on. The commercial that wins—gets the most responses—becomes control and is rolled out on TV, in movie theaters and anywhere else … until it is displaced by new commercial that tests better on Hulu.

With the Hulu model, razzle-dazzle TV-type commercials are combined with an immediate direct response mechanism. Trouble is that it is obvious the advertisers are allowing the general agencies that created the great commercials to handle the direct marketing element, which they know nothing about.

Old rule: never use a general agency for direct marketing.

But do spend some time at Hulu and think through how you might use it—either for sales or for testing.