Boyden Executive Search

The media colossus has hired Publicis on the strength of the big data capabilities it recently acquired, like many in the advertising industry.

The world’s third-largest advertising group landed Disney at the conclusion of what Arthur Sadoun, Chief Executive of Publicis, called an “intense” four-month pitch and “the most important pitch of the year” for the firm. At its centre was Publicis’s new subsidiary, Epsilon Data Management, which purports to have information “on virtually every U.S. consumer.” Publicis paid $4 billion to acquire the firm in July.

Epsilon has been a big draw for Publicis, helping it sign deals with major multinationals including Novartis and Mondelez. The new data marketing capabilities likely had particular allure for Disney as it prepares for the launch of its Disney Plus streaming media service, set for November 12.

While Disney already has a treasure trove of data on its customers, Epsilon’s extremely detailed data could help give it an edge in the ultra-competitive streaming media space. “They have the capacity to really understand who is a likely prospect for the streaming service and where that person resides online, and they can send messages in the appropriate media to that individual,” explained Jay Pattisall, an analyst with Forrester.

Disney was working with ad groups Omnicom, Dentsu Aegis Network and Horizon but “freshened its strategy for deciding where and when to place its marketing and whom to target with it” earlier this year, the New York Times reports. Now Publicis will handle media strategy for Disney Plus, as well as Disney resorts and amusement parks in North America. The firm also won most of Disney’s media business for the rest of the world.

The major new client came at a critical time for Publicis, which released a dismal earnings report in early October. The advertising industry is facing disruption by Facebook and Google. The two platforms dominate digital advertising, and have started working directly with advertisers, cutting out traditional ad agencies. Struggling to compete, many have been acquiring data marketing firms. Japanese advertising and PR firm Dentsu, for example, bought a majority stake in Merkle Group in 2016. Interpublic Group bought another data marketing firm, Acxiom, in 2018.

The increasing use of big data by advertisers, exemplified by Disney’s deal with Publicis, inevitably raises the spectre of consumer privacy violation. “This is in essence creating a data broker division to Disney, expanding what Disney already knows, which is a lot,” said Jeffrey Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer advocacy group. “You’re telling your entire life history to Mickey Mouse.”

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