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The agency ‘Math Men’ are after your data too – as direct marketing takes over the ad world

New Yorker writer and author Ken Auletta’s chat to departed WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell at Cannes should be interesting. Even even if he doesn’t delve into the reasons for Sorrell’s shock departure he has an interesting thesis, described here, that the ad agencies – the ‘Math Men’ as Sorrell described them – and their clients are just as keen to harvest as much data about you as Facebook, Google and, increasingly, Amazon.

More will be revealed in Auletta’s forthcoming book Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else). “Frenemies” is another Sorrell-ism, used first to describe Google.

Among the highlights is the revelation that WPP’s GroupM media buying behemoth “has quietly assembled what it calls its ‘secret sauce,’ a collection of forty thousand personally identifiable attributes it plans to retain on two hundred million adult Americans.” Remind anyone of Cambridge Analytica?

So it’s at least arguable that for all their protestations that they just want more accurate measurement of social media and access to their data – for high-minded reasons – the big agency groups are just peed off that Facebook and Google have got this stuff, in their fabled “walled gardens,” and they haven’t.

Unilever CMO Keith Weed is quoted rather damningly in the piece, describing the data the CPG giant holds.

Facebook, Google and their peers are not really in the advertising business at all, their business is direct marketing.

It was always obvious that if direct marketing campaigns could increase their historic hit rate from the average of about two per cent to significantly more they would take over the world. Seems they have.

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