Mars: ‘we don’t want to fall into the trap of allowing our audience data to be held by third parties’

Mars is waking up to the value of its owned data, sharpening how it collects, organises and activates those insights to ensure it doesn’t have to go through third-parties to access insights on its audiences.

The food business has felt like it’s been drowning in the data it has on shoppers; whether it’s data from sales or from marketing, there’s a dense web Mars needs to unravel before it can understand why people are more likely to purchase a Snickers on one day than they are on another for example.

However, while it’s clear audience data is elevating the way ads are bought, a large chunk of that value is captured by “third parties” that make money by reselling brands and publishers’ data to the highest bidder while paying lower rates for it in the first place.

“We need to understand why managing and keeping your own data is important,” Dan Burdett, global brand director for Snickers told The Drum.

“In the past, we, along with other companies, have fallen into the trap of allowing the data and information to be held by third parties, and I think you only get value out of the information when you’re able to interpret and interrogate it in a way that bypasses you having to rely on third parties to give you the bits of information that they’re keen for you to see, but are the while keeping the bits that they think are better for themselves.”

Mars’ reluctance to share its first party data – in particular the insights generated by it - is one shared by peers like Mondelez, which earlier this year told The Drum coming up to a solution was akin to “treading carefully in a land of giants”.

It’s why, despite wrestling data ownership back from third parties, Mars still maintains ties to the likes of Facebook and Google in order to access the insights generated by third-party data that is needed to round-off its audience profiles.

To that end, Mars is considering erecting a data-management platform (DMP), where its audience data is collected and then shared with third parties in a manner it is comfortable with.

Taking data brand-side this way is a complicated and costly investment for any advertiser, but Mars thinks a DMP could provide a more accurate look at how to improve its campaigns, consequently lifting targeting.

“We don’t have a DMP but it’s something we’re looking at,” said Burdett. Time was that retailers would come to Mars and its rivals for insights on shoppers; this isn’t the case anymore and consequently companies like Mars haven’t had to adapt their data offerings as fast, leaving them stuck with reams of data they don’t fully understand.

“The whole notion of knowledge graphs and being able to manage and make sense of your data is important,” continued Burdett.

“We’ve got a lot of data at Mars but the value of it only comes when you’re able to marry it up and make sense of it. It’s not the amount of data that matters. It’s the insights that you can get from that data and you can only get the insights if you’re able to interrogate it in lots of different ways. I think you can only interrogate that data in all those different ways if you have a proper data management platform in place. And I think we need to set that up.”

On the flipside, Mars is looking to force the issue when it comes to online measurement. Long a bone of contention between advertisers and publishers, the issue transparency around media is something Mars wants its own solution and is working with its media agency MediaCom to do exactly that.

Like Unilever before it, the chocolate maker has just concluded an audit to identify the percentage of its ads have the opportunity to be seen. Additionally, it’s looking at alternative metrics like impact to share.

“The thing about impact to share is that if we’re buying [inventory on] YouTube then you can assume that view is the same value to us as a view on television but then what’s the impact of that view when it’s shared by someone else,” said Burdett.

“Would that shared view have more impact on the consumer because it’s been shared by a friend or someone else or does it have less impact? We’re really trying to understand the impact that a view has as well.”

These themes of data ownership, measurement and targeting will be discussed in further detail by Burdett and his FMCG peers at next week’s Ad Tech London event, where he’ll most likely shed further light on Mars’ strategy to use advertising technology to sharpen its marketing activity.

It’s an area the marketer admitted Mars is wary of, opting to experiment where others are pumping with bigger budgets. A handful of campaigns testing dynamic creative are already in play in certain markets, with Mars trying to marry the results up with sales data to gauge how worthwhile it is.

“We’re putting in place these test and learn plans to really help us to understand the cost so that its coming at it from the perspective of ‘every buck I spend then how much is getting back to me in terms of sales,” added Burdett.

The speed and depth of Mars’ shift is driven by its place in a market where high profit margins are increasingly harder to come by, while the barriers to entry fall away. From stricter legislation to online players with lower operational costs, the company’s biggest challenge is recalibrating its route to market so that people are willing to pay for – and it can cost-effectively provide – a Snickers bar delivered to them in almost real-time. It is already starting to partner Amazon and has conducted ecommerce tests earlier this year.

“We tested our platform on a smartphone in downtown LA two months ago where he had a Snickers bar delivered to a bar and it came in 12 minutes,” revealed Burdett. “Fair enough we paid a premium for the Snickers bar but you can get these things delivered in almost real time so when you have an impulse or need for a Snickers bar that you can order it online

“It feels like we’re a long way off but the technology is moving at such a pace that you be able to do it in five years.”

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