Jon Mandel has returned to the advertising business, again trying to modernize TV advertising.
Mr. Mandel, the colorful and chatty media-buying executive who has been relatively -- and uncharacteristically -- silent since departing Nielsen two years ago, has taken the reins of a Seattle tech company called PrecisionDemand, which helps marketers use demographic data to refine their placement of commercials across different TV networks.
As CEO of PrecisionDemand, where he'll also hold forth from a New York office, Mr. Mandel will continue a quest he has been on since leaving Mediacom, the big ad-buying concern where he was chairman until 2006. PrecisionDemand, whose owners include venture-capital firms such as Rho Ventures and StarVest Partners, taps TV-viewership data from set-top boxes along with demographic and purchase data from such parties as Experian and marketers' own sales data to devise a better schedule for TV commercials.
Mr. Mandel worked to achieve something similar from 2006 through 2009 in his role as CEO of NielsenConnect, a Nielsen division intended to help advertisers more accurately track the consumer from seeing a commercial or promotion to actually making a purchase based on the pitch. Nielsen eventually shuttered NielsenConnect, saying its successes were being applied to the company's broader business units. Mr. Mandel has since busied himself doing consulting work and serving on various corporate boards.
True to character, Mr. Mandel isn't mincing words about what he thinks this new company can do. This is , after all, the guy who dismissed ABC's fall schedule for 1998 as "yesterday's enchiladas" to USA Today -- not the polite way to start negotiations during the frenzied upfront buying period.
Should PrecisionDemand gain more traction among major national advertisers, determining and studying a product's true audience will become more important than the broad age and gender metrics that have become so entrenched in the sector.
"I've screamed about it in meetings," said Mr. Mandel, referring to the practice of analyzing consumer viewing and purchase patterns on a local or regional level before committing to an ad schedule. "I've made speeches about it. Don't start at the program level, at the media level, and see how many people it delivers. We start with the question of 'who is your customer,' and then we really fine-tune."
His crusade, of course, is shared by some others in the marketing industry. As the internet and mobile devices have proven more facile than TV in tracking individuals' response to particular ads, many marketers have sought better ways to plan and measure the results of TV advertising, where they still spend far more money.
Nielsen, as seen from Mr. Mandel's tenure there, is trying to help. And so are newer entrants, including TRA, a company that uses loyalty-program information to help advertisers determine where their consumers are, and Simulmedia, a New York concern that says it sells "data-defined audiences, not specific shows, networks, geographies or time slots."
Success for any of the contenders will depend on results. In 2010, Positec Tool Corp. found itself with a "mountain of inventory" for the Jawhorse, a portable clamping station that it sells at Lowes' Co. retail outlets. Knowing that its customers were largely men who enjoyed hunting or drove a pick-up truck, Positec turned to PrecisionDemand for assistance. "The forecast they gave us was within about 2% of what we ended up selling," said Tom Duncan, chief executive of the Charlotte, N.C., company.
Mr. Mandel said PrecisionDemand has also done work for an insurance company and a credit-card marketer, both of whom he declined to name. If all goes well, he said, advertisers will fret less about the money they spend on TV because data-mining of the sort his company performs will make it easier to reach specific audiences and accomplish precisely defined sales goals.
"Now, all of a sudden, advertisers will have accountability" on par with or better than that available for other media, he said. "When you start looking forward as opposed to placing ads based on the past, you can affect business."