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On The Other Side of Big Data and Real Time

By Andrew Frank | September 21, 2012 | 3 Comments

MediaMarketingData-Driven MarketingAdvertising

“Here’s the problem with data: there’s just too much of it…data itself is useless…it just flows over us and buries us.” This was the opening message of Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Innovation Offices of Publicis Groupe, at’s inaugural Human Centered Automation conference in NYC. In a conference notable for the eclecticism of its pro-tech presentations – many of which seemed to ignore the “human” part of the conference theme – Rishad struck a powerful contrarian chord. Eschewing slides and A/V support, he paced the stage and spoke softly and sagaciously about “analog carbon-based life forms in a world of silicon objects.”

When it came to topic of real time, one of the core principles of the AdExchanger mindset, he had this to say:

“Whoever told you real time was better? …When things are real time, it colonizes your mind. You have no time to think, you have no time to create, no time to strategize. All you are doing is reacting. Reacting is not marketing. That is one of the most important things to recognize.”

So what was important in marketing according to Rishad?

“The most important part of brand building is cultural resonance and desire. You want people to desire you. And that is done in only one way that I know…through storytelling.”

He went on to summarize how emerging technology, far from being useless, can be essential to the future of storytelling: “Creativity is connecting the dots in new ways that resonate with people, brands, and culture.” The old storytelling dots – text, audio, video, image, and place – are being enriched, he suggested, by the tech-driven addition of three new ones: mobility, participation, and “the API” – by which he meant linking elements together across channels and media types.

His parting advice to the ad tech audience was, “don’t tell someone who you want to sell to that they’re going to die. The reason we sometimes are not moving fast enough is because a lot of the stuff [people] should be doing, they don’t do because they are human beings and they feel insecure.”

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed several times over the past few days. Underscoring this anxiety angle, it was telling that at both the AdExchanger conference and one thrown by search retargeter Magnetic the night before called Attribution Revolution, presenters found it appropriate to show the famous scene from Minority Report in which John Anderton, in a long tracking shot, is barraged by personalized billboard ads as he attempts to elude pursuers through a mall. Michael Zimbalist, Chief Futurologist of the New York Times, used it to motivate a call for transparency, disclosure, and consent; at the Magnetic conference, the message was far more ambiguous. But perhaps it’s time to listen, to tune into the insecurity of marketing’s old guards and ask if we don’t need to slow down and rediscover some of the basic truths about marketing, creativity, and engagement. One of them is: more and faster aren’t always better.

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  • “Whoever told you real time was better?…The most important part of brand building is cultural resonance and desire. You want people to desire you. And that is done in only one way that I know…through storytelling.” That’s absolutely correct, and that idea does often get lost in ad tech mania. However, where “real-time” and “storytelling” intersect is knowing which chapter of the story to tell to a prospect at any given moment. To extend the metaphor of storytelling: if the prospect has already experienced chapters 1, 2, and 3 (across various media/touchpoints and over a period of time), the advertiser will want to continue BUILDING the narrative (after all, compelling stories keep moving forward; stories that stall quickly lose their audience). However, in a cross-channel campaign, it’s impossible to predict ahead of time exactly when and where the next touchpoint with the prospect will occur. That’s where real-time ad technology comes in very, very handy. Anyone who thinks real-time ad tech is an end unto itself has no grasp of how advertising works to influence people. But as a means to an end, real-time is going to become more and more critical to storytellers.

  • Andrew Frank says:

    Great point Myles!

    I agree that real-time ad tech offers the compelling chance to free our stories from the bonds of the 30-second encounter and create longer, deeper serialized arcs. Of course, not many consider this when they think of “real-time marketing” — or understand the connection you’re making. And when they do, usually the first thing they wonder about is privacy.

    But if all you need to remember about someone is what chapter of what story you’re on, you don’t need to uniquely identify or “track” them.

    Now, if we could only figure out how to propegate non-unique IDs across devices…


  • I like the phrase “serialized arcs” a lot. I may borrow it! It’s a succinct way of summarizing the concept and making the connection back to old-fashioned storytelling / brand-building, without having to use narrowly-defined industry jargon like “sequential messaging.”