Agencies Load Up on Privacy Specialists, Hoping to Keep Consumers From 'Opting Out'

WPP's Data Alliance Presents at Ad Age Data Conference

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Credit: Camelia Boban Wiki Commons

Some 63% of WPP companies now have at least one privacy specialist on staff, executives at WPP's Data Alliance said at the Ad Age Data Conference on Tuesday, in a sign of both how important consumer data has become and how sensitive the subject can be.

Data is making it easy for marketers to imagine all sorts of scenarios for the not-so-distant future, like the hypothetical "hot tubs and helicopters" described at the conference by Data Alliance CEO Nick Nyhan. A person may one day buy a "smart" hot tub that automatically signals Amazon, for example, when it's running low on certain chemicals. Enter one of Amazon's hypothetical drones, flying a supply of chemical X to the consumer.

"It's machines talking to machines," Mr. Nyhan said. "Tech and data is the line between the two," he said.

Data Alliance is designed to help WPP's 350 subsidiaries make the most of the data, sometimes helping marketers navigate the agency holding company to do the same, and to broker deals with outside data providers for the benefit of WPP's portfolio, which includes AKQA, Ogilvy & Mather and Young & Rubicam.

Devon Tighe, VP-data strategy and operations at Data Alliance, said she was impressed by the data being collected by Globant, the company behind Disney Parks' Magic Bands. The wristbands operate as park passes and digital wallets for visitors, providing Disney with lots of information in the process. The question is how best to use that information. Goofy walk up and surprise a visitor by knowing her name, using data fueled by Globant?

"It could easily become creepy, but that's something they're paying close attention to," said Ms. Tighe.

Mr. Nyhan cited FusePump, a U.K.-based company that WPP acquired this year. Its data on grocery prices, for example, lets retailers compare competitors' prices and give shoppers rebate vouchers at the cash register if their items could've been bought cheaper elsewhere.

The key is keeping consumers' permission to use data, something with which privacy specialists can hopefully help. "Increasingly, we need people to want to give us data, to want to opt in, or rather, not opt out," said Mr. Nyhan.

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