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Intelligent application of big data key to effectiveness

Intelligent application of big data key to effectiveness
Richard Shotton and Richard Clay from ZenithOptimedia dig down into the big data debate and how it feeds into effectiveness.

Big Data is big news: globally, the number of search queries for the term has doubled since 2013 (Google trends) and, remarkably, 931 books on the topic have been published in the last 90 days alone (Amazon).

It is undeniably a subject that has captured the zeitgeist in recent years and the value it can deliver is being explored with vocal enthusiasm across a range of industries.

The advertising world is no different. For a number of years we have been extolling the virtues of Big Data, particularly how it can enhance consumer understanding, campaign measurement and effectiveness.

We were keen to investigate whether the excitement was reflected in the work produced, and its results.

As a starting point, we took a look at the IPA Effectiveness Awards database. With its three decades-worth of rigorously assessed campaign case studies, it was the ideal resource to give an indication of the uptake and success of Big Data in our industry.

Giving us unique access to this valuable resource, the IPA kindly allowed us to contact every entrant from 2012 and 2014 to explore the use of Big Data in their campaigns.

We received 40 responses, a significant proportion of the 135 entrants from the period, and the results were interesting.

45% of award winners made use of Big Data, compared to 29% of unsuccessful entrants, suggesting that Big Data may indeed impact creative effectiveness.

It was also enlightening to look at the way that Big Data was being used. Of the case studies that had worked with Big Data, 80% had used it to measure campaign effectiveness, and on average four different sources of Big Data had been employed to inform activation.

This demonstrated that Big Data is being used throughout the campaign process from insight generation to measurement – an encouraging sign that it can add value.

Looking at the winning papers, we noted that the use of Big Data was often tailored and innovative. In last year’s Gold-winning Olympic Delivery Authority/TfL paper, for instance, data on entries and exits to tube stations, oyster card usage and observed cycle usage were all used to inform the approach.

And the 2012 National Lottery case study, which was awarded Silver, utilised hourly sales data to drive all elements of the plan and optimisation.

However, IPA Effectiveness Award entrants are a small and not necessarily representative group. Looking at this data alone could risk selection bias; it is a collection of some of the industry’s best work.

We therefore surveyed a broader group of 101 industry experts across 21 organisations, including creatives, media agency personnel, media owners and clients. Again, a large proportion of respondents (46%) had used Big Data in the last 12 months to solve marketing problems.

Most strikingly, many felt that Big Data had not yet lived up to its hype: 72% of respondents said that Big Data has great potential – but this has not yet been fulfilled.

Big Data is showing flashes of youthful promise, but the jury is still out on whether it can prove consistently effective.

The signs from the IPA Effectiveness Awards are encouraging, but it is clear that this is yet to be reflected in the wider industry.

Until that is the case, we can’t say that Big Data is fulfilling its promise.

In addition, it is important to remember that whether it is big or small, data remains just data; it is only by applying the necessary processes, evaluation and rigour that we can extract its maximum value.

Greater volume of information alone isn’t helpful, but intelligent application of meaningful metrics can make a big difference.

Richard Shotton ( is head of insight at ZenithOptimedia.
Richard Clay ( is a strategist at ZenithOptimedia.

Learn more about our Awards on the Effectiveness Hub.

Last updated 14/05/2015

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