The life of a modern media exec is all about balancing amazing new capabilities with traditional tech that is actually drying up.

Case in point – GroupM agency Wavemaker is having to negotiate the ongoing deprecation of audience identifiers like cookies.

But, even as it does so, the agency is embracing advanced new tools, says US executive director for data and product, Stuart Pennant.

Geo data boosts campaigns

Pennant says Wavemaker used geographic tools to improve its campaign for last year’s US 2020 Census.

“So we were tying our media data and our media, both delivery and audience data, to the geographic units, which are census tracts and block groups,” he says.

“I think pulling in that geographic layer and doing geospatial analysis on that data allowed us to optimise the media plans for the Census to actually get – even during these times of COVID where people didn’t want to answer the door – the type of response rates that we got in 2010.”

While the census may have been a unique example, given the kinds of geo data census organizers themselves had access to, Pennant is sold on geo: “I think the geospatial analysis that we’re currently now employing has an application across not just government clients, but also other clients, retail or any clients that have brick and mortar places across the nation.”

Replacing cookies

That kind of capability is useful, because Pennant’s Wavemaker, like all on in the ad industry, are currently being challenged by the deprecation of third-party cookies and new limits on mobile device identifiers.

Pennant knows he has to balance the consumer interests in which those moves are rooted with a need to continue locating audiences on behalf of brands.

“In the past, we were able to identify users across sites and across properties so we could actually understand full user journey pathways,” he says.

“That ability is now being questioned and it’s being deprecated. We need to find far more interesting ways and far more effective ways that are privacy safe in order to understand that type of incrementality that we need.”

Predicting the future with ML

One answer could lie in artificial intelligence – or, more specifically, machine learning.

Pennant is nervous about “AI” pronouncements, lest the technology stray too closely to connoting Terminator 2’s plotline. Indeed, many AI deployments are actually quite rudimentary.

But Wavemaker’s Pennant says his agency’s use of “ML” technologies is “very rich”.

“One of the things that we’re leveraging at Wavemaker and at GroupM is predictive analytics, time series, predictive analytics,” he says.

“Understanding how much money or how much funds should be going into certain channels, let’s say search, and predicting what your response would be based on other media that’s running, based off of budgets, based off of past performance, and predicting in the near future of what sort of responses that you can get back.

“This is very valuable to our clients because one of the things about, let’s just take search for instance … If you over budget for it, you end up not spending your budget. If you under budget, you leave money or you leave conversions on the table. Getting that number right is important.”

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