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Every breath you take

Greg Castronuovo

In a world where behavioural data proliferates, Greg Castronuovo thinks it’s time Big Brother took a step back.

You wake up at 6am and the first thing you do is check your mobile phone. Maybe it’s about seeing alerts you’ve set up – news, sport, weather, email – or perhaps you just want to check the time and hit the snooze button. After a brief glimpse at your magical little device you stretch, yawn, slowly rise out of bed and probably go to the bathroom.

From your point of view all of these initial actions are just part of your daily morning routine, but to advertising professionals, these ‘behaviours’ are opportunities to engage with you throughout the day, at times and in ways that we’ve never been able to before... even in the bathroom.

“Hi. While you’re reading the New York Times, don’t forget to wipe with new caffeinated-coffee-scented Charmin. Read up, wake up and wipe up at the same time!”

Ok. Maybe the above copy is too extreme, but from the moment we open our eyes we provide clues about ourselves to potential brand suitors. Some of the ‘analogue’ data is extrapolated from online actions, but the opportunity to create a paint-by-numbers picture of ourselves down to the millisecond for marketers has arrived across all channels and behaviours.

If you think I’m joking, look up the Luna mattress cover (AdAge). For only $249 you can have a connected mattress cover that measures just about everything you do while sleeping, or for that matter anything you do in bed. Moving on…

Consider how many streams of behavioural data we amass about ourselves each day and multiply that by the entire online population (mobile and desktop). The amount of data is unimaginable and yet we strive to harness it and wield it as if it were the electrical grid lighting up all of the connection points between brands and consumers. We’re a culture of duality when it comes to privacy. We relish the idea of sharing out some of the most mundane nuances of our lives, and yet we raise hell if the same platform that allows us to use it for free dares to capitalise on the data we shared by selling more targeted ads to us.

While we continue placing huge investments on channels where the research is still based on syndicated survey data, think about how quickly we’re evolving away from these methods.

Me want cookie! Me eat cookie! Om nom nom nom...”

Like a shopping junkie with a new line of credit, our industry clamoured for new ways to use cookie-based insights to take our consumers from a state of window browsing (consideration) to a shopping spree (intent and action).

As much as we all believed cookies were the answer to mapping out better real-time decision making for those investments, we’re now reassessing and quickly ramping up relationships based on unique ID. Mobile has emerged as the real consumer utility and boredom breaker. Even the Cookie Monster would agree that all those tasty desktop and mobile display cookies dissolve way too quickly in the milky white softness of the app cloud.

As marketing professionals, it’s our dream, our desire, and our responsibility to our clients to validate all of our decisions as precisely as possible. How do we make the best impression that will stimulate engagement, or even transaction, at the exact right moment at the lowest cost? That’s a mouthful, but it pretty much sums up the expectation every client puts on us. The Police sang about it way back in 1983.

Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you

Oh can’t you see?
You belong to me...

A quick Wiki search shows that Sting was being a bit prescient singing about a ‘big brother‘ watching over you.

I woke up in the middle of the night with that line in my head, sat down at the piano and had written it in half an hour. The tune itself is generic, an aggregate of hundreds of others, but the words are interesting. It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn’t realise at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.
Sting, Wikipedia



There are some real benefits to consumers if we start to serve more relevant information to them

I’m sure the data police won’t be singing a pretty tune if privacy issues aren’t addressed apropriately and marketers don’t police themselves with the utmost rigour, but overall there are some real benefits to consumers if we start to serve more relevant information to them at the right time.

Even though a lot has happened in the world of behavioural data in a very short period of time, there’s still much left to learn if we’re going to close the gap between guessing and knowing. Even as we build machinery that can drill deeper into that gap, we do it knowing that we will never run out of data to mine, and the gap will never close completely. The human psyche will always hold secrets that even the most advanced algorithms won’t be able to explain.

To some degree the future is the same as the past. We win based on the ideas we generate from the strategic insights we derive from consumer research.

As Doc Brown said in Back to the Future,

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour … you’re gonna see some serious shit.”

We like to say, “How you show up is as important as what you say”. So if data is the new oil, then those who figure out how to use it to optimally synchronise – the what, the how, and the when – will be gassing up the ultimate Delorean, and will start to really see some serious shit.

At OMD, we’re investing heavily in our data-driven planning capabilities. That investment is as much about people as it is about technology and data partnerships. Knowing ‘every breath you take’ is only useful if we make sure the consumer comes first and we respect the ultimate opportunity to make an impression – by knowing when to leave them alone.

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