The New York Times yesterday had an article on advertising’s digital future. It mostly discussed the view of David W. Kenny, chairman and chief executive of Digitas, the advertising agency in Boston that was acquired by the Publicis Groupe for $1.3 billion six months ago.
The plan is to build a global digital ad network that uses offshore labor to create thousands of versions of ads. Then, using data about consumers and computer algorithms, the network will decide which advertising message to show at which moment to every person who turns on a computer, cellphone or — eventually — a television.
“Our intention with Digitas and Publicis is to build the global platform that everybody uses to match data with advertising messages,” Mr. Kenny said.
That is, advertising in the future will be much more data driven. Now, if we take that vision for granted, then the interesting question will be Who will end up controlling what data? No doubt Mr. Kenny would love to see advertising agencies being the central gateway, if not the outright owner, of all such data. However, privacy advocates, media companies, new “intermediaries”, and search engines like Google all have different ideas about their ownership of data and their place in this advertising future. It’s too early to tell how things will turn out, and everyone is making educated guesses.
“How do we see Google, Yahoo and Microsoft? It’s important to see that our industry is changing and the borders are blurring, so it’s clear the three of those companies will have a huge share of revenues which will come from advertising,” said Maurice Lévy, chairman and chief executive of the Publicis Groupe.
“But they will have to make a choice between being a medium or being an ad agency, and I believe that their interest will be to be a medium,” he added. “We will partner with them as we do partner with CBS, ABC, Time Warner or any other media group.”
I wonder if Mr. Lévy has considered the possibility that in this digital future, Google may in fact be CBS, ABC, and Time Warner combined.