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Ad giant IPG bets big on consumer data with $2.3 billion Acxiom deal

By buying marketing data firm Acxiom, Interpublic Group aims for better data, and less reliance on others like Facebook and Google, to target us with ads.

Ad giant IPG bets big on consumer data with $2.3 billion Acxiom deal
[Image: courtesy of Interpublic Group]

So Interpublic Group (IPG), one of the ad-world’s global conglomerates, is acquiring data-marketing giant Acxiom for $2.3 billion. Why? In a word, data.

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The deal is for Acxiom’s Marketing Solutions business unit, while the company’s LiveRamp unit will remain a separate public company. It gives IPG and its ad agencies, which include McCann Worldgroup, R/GA, Deutsch, and FCB, access to Acxiom’s anonymized customer data, which helps marketers make more relevant ads, target them more accurately, and better measure their effectiveness. “In a world where everything is becoming data-driven,” said IPG CEO Michale Roth in a statement, “Acxiom Marketing Solutions offers the deepest set of capabilities for helping companies navigate the complexity of creating personalized brand experiences across every consumer touchpoint. Combining AMS with a range of IPG assets will help us shape the future of our industry.”

Until last March, Acxiom was one of the main third-party data aggregators Facebook used to supplement the existing information it has on users to make its datasets more complete–and more attractive to advertisers. That arrangement also gave advertisers a better sense of objective measurement beyond what the social network, famous for being less-than completely open with its numbers, was telling them. Facebook dropped Acxiom in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

This deal signals IPG’s intent to help clients lessen their reliance on tools and numbers from the digital ad duopoly of Facebook and Google.

It’s a song IPG’s Roth has been singing for a while. At Cannes Lions last month, he told CNBC he was looking at platforms that might grow to pose a threat to Google and Facebook. “The more the merrier,” he said, pointing to Amazon, Snap, Spotify, and Twitter as increasingly important alternatives to the giants that dominate digital advertising. Roth also emphasized the importance of third-party verification for clients. “The issue of disintermediation, (clients) going to Google and Facebook and not to us, frankly when they do go to Google and Facebook, we’re involved because you need an independent arbiter,” he told Reuters.

Of course, in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, consumer data–how’s it’s collected, who has it, and how it’s being used–remains a contentious issue, with industry practices in the minds of many consumers seen at best as questionable, and at worst downright devious. Pivotal Research’s Brian Wieser, who’s bullish on the deal overall, acknowledged as much, writing to clients, “Marketers are increasingly conscious of ‘ethical data’ and the notion that consumers should be providing more explicit forms of consent for their data to be used, even if they have provided consent that meets legal standards. We’re doubtful that most consumers know that data about them exists in Acxiom databases.”

But Roth is obviously confident in the integrity of his new purchase, and it’s unlikely the last move we’ll see from him or his peers in going on offense against Facebook and Google.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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