James: Hey everybody. Welcome to The Q, Conversations in Digital Media. Just had a great conversation today with Tracy Arrington. She is a professor at UT and also SVP with Brain+Trust Partners and it was just a great time to get a chance to talk to her. And honestly, your head might be spinning just a tad after this podcast after listening to it. She has so much detail on the data analytics side of things, from aggregating data and how branders and agencies are using this data, or maybe not utilizing this data.
James: And with her tenure at UT, she's doing a great program and taking kids overseas into China for a six week program, to really teach them about how to be agnostic and nonlinear with their approach in thinking about how to utilize data and how to apply that to marketing.
James: Great conversation we had with them. Actually Brain+Trust Partners, her and Tim, are actually starting to podcast, so be on the lookout for that too. But this has been a great conversation, we hope you guys enjoy it. This is The Q.
James: All right Tracy, thank you for joining us here in The Q. We're in the Longhorn room, hopefully that's... the colors are nice here because I know you're a Longhorn.
Tracy Arrington: The best room in the building. Thank you so much for having me.
James: Of course, of course. Thanks for coming in. And sorry if we're in a hotbox here, I feel like we're heating you out right now. This is going to become a sauna.
Tracy Arrington: I'll take it, I'll take it.
James: AC issues. It's supposed to be 100 and something degrees today. In Austin it's not going to be easy for anybody out there. Where are you from? I guess, where'd you grow up?
Tracy Arrington: I am a military brat.
Tracy Arrington: I really didn't grow up anywhere. My father was a career Air Force Officer, and so we spent time in Texas, in Nebraska, Alabama, New Mexico. And I spent middle school and the better part of high school in Hawaii, which was just terrible. I mean, just terrible.
James: Yes, It's a really terrible spot to end up. I know it's expensive though, right? Everybody says it's really expensive out there, but to be stationed there, I guess, what island was it?
Tracy Arrington: On Oahu in Honolulu. And it a pricey place to be, but you don't really need a lot when you can spend all day on the beach, on a patio. Not as much need for material things, I think, when you're living on an island.
James: Is it as chill or as easygoing as everybody says it is to live there?
Tracy Arrington: Yes, absolutely. There's a different pace. Business moves at a different pace, school moves at a different pace. There's a lot more time and attention paid to life, and the enjoyment of it.
James: That's good. Do you have siblings? Or is it just you or?...
Tracy Arrington: I have a younger sister.
Tracy Arrington: She's amazing. She's Dr. Katherine Arrington, who works for the Dana Center at UT. Her specialty is mathematics. She's literally shaping the future of education, specifically as it relates to mathematics. Not just here, but around the world. She's pretty incredible.
James: Well, you both have that gene of educating, because you're a professor at UT. And now I just read, you're going to China in 2020?
Tracy Arrington: I am.
James: Is that a mainstay thing? How long you going to be there? What is the reason for going over there?
Tracy Arrington: I've been teaching at Texas for, this will be my sixth year in the Stan Richards School of Advertising and PR. I teach Media Investments typically every spring and fall semester. Really the art of negotiation, metrics and analytics associated with investments in media of any type, both online and offline.
Tracy Arrington: Like my sister and the balance of my family, were pretty much a bunch of math geeks. We love the numbers.
James: You love Excel spreadsheets?
Tracy Arrington: We love spreadsheets, we love the numbers. We believe that data has so many stories to tell whether it's in education or in branding and media. And I was given the opportunity to expand the Texas Media Program, which is proud to say top rated. It's been 20 years in the making but really building future leaders in our industry.
Tracy Arrington: I was given the chance to add an international element, had great conversations with our Director, JoAnn Sciarrino, who is fabulous. And the Texas Media Director [Lee Tobias 00:05:27], about the future of media, what it means and what students coming out of Texas need in order to secure global positions earlier and really influence the business, not just here in the U S but globally.
Tracy Arrington: China is such a powerhouse. They have such a unique view on data and analytics. We'll take politics to the side, which you have to from an academic standpoint. But just to study how use data, how brands exist. Global brands like Procter & Gamble, and Unilever, how they do business differently in the Western world versus in China. And it really does boil down to data and how that's used.
James: What do they do differently? Or is there anything specifically or one thing you can go, "Well, they might take this a little bit differently than the way American companies do?"
Tracy Arrington: The primary difference is the presence of the government when it comes to accumulating, aggregating data points which is not done in the same way. In the Western world it's-
James: Is it more restricted in the Western world, or is it opposite?
Tracy Arrington: Well, consumer data privacy is of utmost concern to most in the West. You see GDPR in Europe, you see a California Consumer Privacy Act, that will get its teeth in January. We have pending legislation in that space in more than a dozen states. It's going to escalate. But in a communist country, you don't have those concerns.
Tracy Arrington: From an academic standpoint, it's fascinating. But we're working with Ogilvy & Mather, to build a brand marketing and analytics program that will house in Shanghai next year. It'll be a six week long program. I'll take 30 students from the University of Texas to Shanghai and immerse them, working alongside some of the top brands, technology leaders and really let them see how things are done in China.
James: That's exciting. How do I sign up? I would love to go for six weeks-
Tracy Arrington: It's really fast. Just enroll at UT, become admitted.
James: It's that easy?
Tracy Arrington: It's a breeze. We're excited about it and it will be the first time that students on campus outside of Moody College of Communication, can gain access to some of our analytics curriculum. Which is part of a conversation we have regularly, how subject matters coming together, computer science, business, communication. It's critical and we're excited to be able to offer students that opportunity.
James: Oh, that's exciting. And the need for that for kids, like you said, to be prepared globally to find jobs, it's gotten that much more competitive. Having the UT Diploma has always been great, but that's not everything now. It's shocking how the past 20-30 years, getting a college diploma has not really solidified you getting a job now. Which I guess you went to UT back in the 90s. I mean, what are the differences between-
Tracy Arrington: Don't get specific, James.
James: No, no, no, no, not at all. Not at all. That was a good year. That was a great, great decade for you. How has it changed? And you went through the program at UT and now kids are going through it. I mean, is it that much more difficult for students to come out and be more prepared and find that job?
Tracy Arrington: I think it is. When I was in school, I was actually a graduate of the very first cohort from the Texas Media Program. A program that you had to apply to and gain entry to beyond just admission to the college of communication, or the School of Advertising and PR. And at that time, Texas asked the question of industry, what do you need our students to know?
Tracy Arrington: And at that time, students would come out of school and have to spend a minimum of two years just learning the language of media and learning the acronyms for Pete's sake...
Tracy Arrington: Endlessly long GRPs-
James: Cost Per Point.
Tracy Arrington: All of it. And Texas was very bold and asking the question, "How do we enable our students to contribute day one instead of two years, and day one?" And the industry responded very well. In my tenure at Texas, there was a lot of sitting around conference tables in class and saying, "Well, what do we need to learn today?" And having an industry professional come in and say, "We need you to be able to calculate Cost Per Point. We need you to be able to look at qualitative data alongside ratings information, which is the precursor to what we know now, as far as behavioral and demographic and disease.
Tracy Arrington: And things have changed quite a bit. With the onset of technology, it's really escalated that entire process. And it's difficult for students because in our industry, your GPA really doesn't mean much. I mean, obviously, if you come out of school with a 1.2 that's a red flag, but employers want to know how you think and are you curious? And can you be uncomfortable and embrace that because our industry is not going to slow down, it's only going to get faster.
Tracy Arrington: A big reason for going to China is forcing students to learn to think in a nonlinear fashion. To question, "Why are you doing anything the way you're doing it? Can it be automated? Can it be streamlined? Can it be approached in a different manner?"
Tracy Arrington: The days of, well, this is how we've always done it, are over. And I think brands are really struggling with that right now, of how to move from a current state into a state of future readiness. It's a question everyone needs answered. We also add compliance questions, ethics questions, operational questions.
Tracy Arrington: We need young people coming out of school to be malleable and to know how to think. Theory, practice, but really more than anything a mindset to, how do you move forward? How do you help brands move forward, cities move forward? How do you help yourself move forward?
James: It's the traditional side of things too. When I entered in this space, which was not even that long ago, but in 2010, and still there was that mindset of, "Hey, this is the recipe to a successful campaign." You have your GRPs, whatever it is, radio, TV, traditional advertising. And well, it was great to learn all that because I think there's a creative side and there is sort of that three-prong approach that they might have, the funnel and all that stuff.
James: You throw all the digital data in the mix and it just turns it upside down on its head, but it's still good to know that stuff. You'll still have to, I would assume teach them all the things that you knew and what you learned growing up. But, then you have to go on top of that and like, "Hey, the second half of this session is all data and how do we apply that data to still run a successful branding campaign." Or whatever it is that they call the action campaign for any brand. It's insane.
Tracy Arrington: I teach my students and I also teach my clients and my primary role at Brain+Trust, to ask the right questions. Data has always been available for offline media as it is for online media. Obviously, the volume and velocity of data online is much more robust, but there is always been information available.
Tracy Arrington: The question is, are you asking the right questions? Are you aggregating the right numbers? Are you leveraging them in a way that's useful? Can you use that data to model for the future? Can you recall that all data is from the past, right? Even if it's aggregated 10 minutes ago, it's still in the past. Balancing that with intuition and experience to craft a plan or a strategy for the future.
Tracy Arrington: That's difficult to do, especially with the volume of data we have available to us now. We find brands paralyzed with the amount of data they have, and it's typically housed in different silos, so it's not especially useful. And whether it's a student or a brand leader, they tend to have the same questions regardless of their experience level.
James: What are we supposed to do with this?
Tracy Arrington: What are we supposed to do with this? From a brand standpoint, moving beyond media metrics and tying any kind of communication to a business outcome. Not asking, "Did I achieve my engagements? Did I achieve my impression, my stated impression goal?" But what does that mean to the business? And encouraging conversations between people who haven't typically spoken to one another or worked alongside one another.
Tracy Arrington: If you're brand or a business, your CMO and your CIO should know one another really well, and if they don't, they should start right this minute.
James: 15 years ago.
Tracy Arrington: Absolutely. Having people who work with technology and people who work in marketing, and even operations or go even further, finance. Every element of your business is impacted by technology, and those conversations need to be conducted with everyone at the table in order for you to really find that success.
James: That's something that I think, what you just said is encouraging to people who think that we're all just going to be automated robots taking all the jobs as you still do need that person to analyze the data and put it to use. And I don't know if there's some robot AI that's being configured that will do that one day, and I can't say that there won't, but you still do need people that can understand the data and apply it, like you said.
James: Which I think it sounds like that's the main focus of your students. Is just getting them prepared to understand, read the data, like it's a language and be able to evaluate it and put a proper plan together.
Tracy Arrington: Absolutely.
James: Just exciting. I guess, you got your start on the media buying side. I know you've got an interesting story with the way you started out straight out of college. You worked for GSD&M, here in Austin one of the bigger agencies, but at the time it was a rapid growth period, it sounds like. They kind of may be threw you to the wolves.
Tracy Arrington: It was a wild time. GSD&M was an up and coming company, at the time considered a maverick in the industry, really just doing things differently and they were very bold. Their creative team was phenomenal. The folks involved in media were very early into the possibilities in the digital space, and it was a phenomenal place to be.
Tracy Arrington: I was very young and it was like the Wild West. They were acquiring business, significant business left and right. The onboarding of Southwestern Bell, that became the SBC, that eventually became AT&T. Dreamworks, the entertainment business is the Wild West in and of itself but-
James: Great time to have that too. It was not as big as it is now, but it's massive.
Tracy Arrington: But launching films like Shrek, which are icons of our culture at this point, we worked with Walmart, we worked with BMW, with Land Rover. There was an endless list of brands that are bucket list brands to work with. And it was crazy, it was a little bit wild, but it was wonderful.
Tracy Arrington: And you worked all day, sometimes you worked all night but the opportunities presented in that environment are rare. I was very fortunate to be right place at the right time, and I spent nearly a dozen years there learning from some of the best marketers and brand leaders on the planet. It was amazing.
James: Was there a shift during that time, especially, I know digital sounds like they were on the forefront of anything digital, but what was kind of the big buzz word around digital when you first started? I don't know, what was the Google, or I don't know what was it back then? I don't know, what was it?
Tracy Arrington: Well, no one said, "Online." Everyone said, "Internet advertising." This was before the IEB was in place. There were really no standards. We were managing site lists, so it was a battle of site lists and who was on your list which is so different from how we function today. But literally iterating ad units for every site you chose to be on. Site direct heavy which drove the creative department crazy.
Tracy Arrington: You thought direct mail and out of home had too many iterations, then you need 35 different ad units to be delivered as part of an ad package. There were more than one grumbles coming out of the creative department at that point, but it really was fascinating more than anything else. I don't think anyone could really pinpoint the impact that would have.
Tracy Arrington: But it was really a shiny object at that point when I was young, we're online, we're on the internet and that was a feather in the cap of a brand marketer because it showed that they were risky and cutting edge. But like with most shiny objects, you don't really know how that would impact your business.
James: Was it difficult to get brands to buy in, to being online back then?
Tracy Arrington: Shockingly, it's difficult to get certain brands to commit to being online today, which shocks me. I will say the most meaningful engagement I had was with Mastercard, who really stepped forward in their category to say, "We believe in the future of e-commerce." And they didn't use the word e-commerce at that point, but unlike their competitors, they said, "We believe this will be the future, so we are making a commitment to be online to put a lot of money and energy around transacting and buying things online."
Tracy Arrington: And a lot of people shook their head and said, "That will never happen. No one will ever enter a credit card into the interwebs. They will never do it, right?" And Mastercard was so bold to say, "We disagree, and we're doing this." They made a commitment to be online early, and that was inspiring. And talking about nonlinear thinking to really blow up the concept of how business is done, and to recognize that this was going to be a way to connect people in a way we'd never seen before. That was exciting to be a part of.
James: Sounds like a good client.
Tracy Arrington: They were a great client. Tough as can be, but really inspiring.
James: Well, like you said, they analyze things and they're always going to be looking and asking those tough, difficult questions. But I think that's never changed within the digital space, I think is still today with new technologies and new ways to target people and the consumers. There's got to be at least 15 questions to one tactic, whatever it is. And it's like, "Wait, I don't understand this."
James: It's basically you're an educator. Instead of somebody who's supplying just goods, you're really educating these people because they don't understand it. And half the time when you're speaking it, you're like, "Wait, I'm trying to convince myself how it works."
Tracy Arrington: I spoke to a client just this morning who said, "I do my very best to keep up, but I feel like I fall behind." If you spend any time in Silicon Valley, meeting with people who are on the edge of technology, it's very evident that as fast as this has gone, it's going faster and it's going to go even faster than that as we move forward.
Tracy Arrington: It is a full time job just to tread water, to keep up with the capabilities of technology. In my work with Brain+Trust, we're helping brands. Enterprise level brands have in some cases 200 different data inputs, right? From a CRM, a point of sale system. You have geographic data from beacons in brick and mortar stores, you have social... it's so much information.
Tracy Arrington: But we're seeing options now where you can remove schemas from all of that data, aggregate it, unify it, deduplicate it. Build singular customer records, which in my opinion fuels the power of programmatic media, fuels a direct to consumer model, fuels a one-to-one relationship in personalizing communication.
Tracy Arrington: And when I say media now, I'm not just talking about programmatic display on TV and out-of-home. It's every single touch point with the consumer. And how do you build that relationship? We're looking at blockchain being the future of business, and under that system, you may not ever know who your customers are.
Tracy Arrington: If you aren't building that relationship now, you will be left behind. And those types of conversations seem a little alarmist and a little bit scary, but they can't be kicked down the road any further. They can't be shelved any longer. We're here, and if you haven't started to have this conversation, you need to because you're behind.
James: For those people who are out there they're like, I don't know what she just said. Explain to people what blockchain is and why that is significant to the way businesses going to be run, going forward.
Tracy Arrington: Blockchain different from cryptocurrency, right? Which is what people typically think blockchain is. It's basically... well, it's a lot of things but-
James: It's hard to nail down.
Tracy Arrington: It's hard to put it in a nutshell. But basically, it's a system where you can transact anonymously. It basically distributes information in a way that virtually eliminates fraud, eliminates a lot of the primary business concerns that we have today in when it comes to fraud and transparency and basically makes conducting business more streamlined and more transparent.
Tracy Arrington: It's a challenge for government currencies. It's a challenge for the way commerce and economies are structured today. It enables a truly global commerce set, which is frightening to a lot of people. You see Facebook coming out announcing Libra, which is Facebook's concept of currency. And you see our government issuing requests to Facebook to please stop pursuing this because it's so disruptive to world economies and we'll see what happens.
James: I guess it's very interesting because the power has naturally been with the government and they control that, and now you have these private entities or in some cases with blockchain, it's really just a system.
Tracy Arrington: That's right.
James: It's not one person that's owning this currency or the way that businesses run, but for a company like Facebook, do consumers really want Facebook to own that currency, I guess?
Tracy Arrington: Well, and I think there's a lot of work to be done. I think consumers want to weigh in, but they don't have all the information. It's a pretty complex subject.
James: I know my brain hurt with you just explaining.
Tracy Arrington: Well, and I don't even know that that was a thorough explanation, but it's complicated. And there are concepts that even people that are in business and in industry in finance don't thoroughly understand. I'm certainly not a blockchain expert by any stretch, but at the end of the day, the world is changing and that sounds melodramatic to say, but it's true.
Tracy Arrington: We like to say technology is something that happens to you whether you like it or not. Sticking your head in the sand and saying, "Well, I just don't like it." It's not really a solution. It's coming whether you like it or not. Love to encourage people to consider becoming future ready. And I'd have to say I laugh at people who say, "We're going to make you future-proof," because there's no such thing. There's absolutely no such thing.
James: Who says that?
Tracy Arrington: More people than I can count. I have a lot of clients who show me proposals that they've received from consultants or from agencies, or businesses that says, "We're going to future proof your business." And I just have to laugh because none of us knows, and you said just a moment ago a robot might take my job. And the truth is, it might, because if you have a task that you do more than three times a week, I promise you it can be automated right now.
Tracy Arrington: And it's not a scary thing, it's an amazing thing to move mundane tasks off your desk and allow you as a human to focus on strategy and guidance. That's amazing. Encourage people not to see it as a threat, but as an opportunity. And also a lot of jobs of the future we can't describe today. We don't know that they will eventually exist, but they will.
Tracy Arrington: There will be quite a bit of opportunity, and remember that computers and algorithms and robots and all of it, they're basically toddlers, right? You can't just leave them unattended and let them run willy-nilly. They need a lot of guidance to remove bias, to remove all kinds of nasty things if left unchecked, because they just don't know. They're still computer. As smart as they are, they're still computers.
James: I mean, that's well said. Even the media industry, especially the digital side, programmatic has gone through those growing pains. 10-15 years ago there was a massive fraud outbreak and that was like the fraud era, and now they've sort of gotten it down to where we are today. With data changing and people being more aware, you mentioned that as people aren't aware but they're becoming more aware.
James: Is that something that you see the industry changing quite a bit in the next few years? I mean, is that something where there might be limitations to the targets that brands and agencies are able to go after right now, currently?
Tracy Arrington: I think it's going to be a hot topic of conversation for a long time to come. GDPR is still very young in Europe but has already completely changed how business is done in the digital space over there.
James: How so? Is it because they're having difficulty finding their core audience that they're trying to go after or is it?...
Tracy Arrington: Well, there are limitations on how you can aggregate data and how you can target consumers. And consumers are given a lot of power to be able to ask questions. "What type of data are you gathering? How are you using it?" And they also have been given the power to say, "Delete my data now."
James: And they can do it on any website or there has to be like a prompt or something that?
Tracy Arrington: Yes. You're seeing fines coming out of Europe, a billion dollar fine for Facebook. Many other fines for Facebook, Google being fined, taken to court. The fundamental nature of Facebook and Google, they're data companies and without leveraging that data, they're in a rough spot. But I think they're so large now that it's difficult to imagine them being completely removed from the ecosystem. They won't be.
James: Won't get for the world.
Tracy Arrington: Well, you think the conversation about Amazon, how large Amazon is. If you dismantled Amazon completely right now, yes, obviously Amazon would be damaged, but there would be tens of thousands of small businesses, small and medium sized businesses that would be crippled if not destroyed, if Amazon went away. Right? There are a lot of questions around consumer data privacy.
Tracy Arrington: And one of the biggest problems we see is that with enterprise level brands that have so many data inputs, you have Bob, let's take Bob, right? Bob is a nice guy. He does business with his favorite hotel chain. Well, when he is online, he's Bob. Right? But when he's using the app, when he's on the website, he's Bob when he's using the app, he's Robert. He books rooms under his corporate card. Robert Ice Smith. He books rooms on his personal card, Bob Smith. He's got an email address from college, email@example.com.
James: Probably Hotmail or something like that.
Tracy Arrington: Yahoo or Hotmail. He's got his business email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. You have all of these different customer records, and the truth is when Bob raises his hand and says, "What information do you have on me?" That hotel chain says, "Well, we have these three records on you, Bob." And he says, "Great, delete them." And they do. They delete Bob and they delete Robert, but they don't recognize that Robert Ice Smith, and Bob Smith are just Bob also.
Tracy Arrington: Without having all of your information in order, you are noncompliant. When Bob says, "Delete my data," which is an issue already in Europe, will become an issue, an enforceable issue in California in January. And that won't be the end of it, right? And it's a struggle for brands in the US because there aren't federal guidelines in place. To have to comply and manage information on a state by state basis is pretty cumbersome and expensive for brands. That's a challenge that will need to be solved.
James: And in California alone when that goes in January 1st, next year, it's going to be something brands are going to have to consider.
Tracy Arrington: That's right.
James: Just like a separate California strategy-
Tracy Arrington: That's right.
James: Which is insane.
Tracy Arrington: Right. And even enterprise level businesses aren't interested in outlaying the amount of money it's going to take to truly be compliant on a state by state basis. There'll be a lot of change, and there is a burden placed on the brands to be more transparent and to have that information at the ready when a consumer raises their hand.
Tracy Arrington: But back to our point earlier about asking the right questions, consumers oftentimes don't want to know, right? Because knowing causes an issue in your mind because then you have to make a choice. "I'm sacrificing this privacy, this information in exchange for this convenience." And oftentimes, if you are hooked on the convenience, think of all the apps you have on your phone. If you were to delete all of them and your convenience-
James: Or turn off your location service.
Tracy Arrington: What does your life look like? And many people prefer to just hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, and just not think about it. And that's frightening to me because you see data breaches, you see bot firms not just in Russia but in China and in Japan, and all over the world. And...
James: The cyber wars.
Tracy Arrington: Cyber wars, back to sounding alarmist, but you can pay people who run bot firms to push content for you for six us dollars an hour, and that kind of cyber terrorism and cyber warfare is not going to slow down. If you're a business, you can be held hostage. If you're an individual, worry about entering your credit card number online. You can find virtually any piece of information you want without a whole heck of a lot of training.
James: And it goes all the way down to the consumer side and influencers now who can buy a million views on a video that you might have posted on YouTube, and take this video to some corporate entity and say, "Hey, I've got a lot of views, I've got a lot of followers, I've got tons of people who are here watching me, and kind of just fraud your way into becoming the next YouTube sensation or star or influencer. It's insane that brands are starting to go to micro influencers because that has taken too much of the fraud era of influencer technology-
Tracy Arrington: That's right.
James: ... and branding. It's all funneling down.
Tracy Arrington: Well, what we're seeing 70% of social traffic at this point coming from bots, 70%. And that that figure is not going to be quashed anytime soon.
James: Do you think the social sites, Facebook, they don't want that number to go away, right? It would drop their amount of users or data that they're able to aggregate?
Tracy Arrington: It would and if you're billing based on those metrics, that's a problem. I think use of tools not just social listening, but tools that can actually provide insight on who's a true human influencer and how are the bots actually working. Because you can use the bots to your advantage just as easily as you can allow them to harm your business.
Tracy Arrington: It's a strategic game and the question is, "Do you have the information you need to make the right decisions?" And that generally involves subscription to a provider that has access to the right data. I would say nine times out of 10, it's worth the investment because it really helps to eliminate a lot of the garbage. All the catch phrases that come out of Silicon Valley, my favorite is, "Garbage in, garbage out."
Tracy Arrington: And I'm sure working in the programmatic space, you know that a clean first party data set overlaid on what you're doing just makes the whole system sing. If we can get more brands to get their houses in order, not just from a compliance standpoint, but to have them understand, not only does this lower your operational costs, reduce your waste, it makes your media just sing.
James: Across the board you need to do that. Unfortunately, that's difficult. That's why you need right now, you need humans to do.
Tracy Arrington: That's right.
James: That's what you're doing to teach these kids. And coming out of high school, what are you seeing as far as your working with, I say kids, but now Gen Zers are entering in within the buying space and they're becoming consumers and purchasing things. What's the difference between the way their minds work, because they've always experienced this digital age? Is there an aptitude to it that they are more a customer, they understand this stuff better than maybe myself or somebody? That's a tough question to ask because you deal with a lot of different kids, but...
Tracy Arrington: I would say that they're less skeptical of the influence of technology. When you talk to people in Gen X, the ultimate paranoia I believe exists in Gen X. Is this actually working? Is it valid? The younger generations I think are less skeptical about the influence. They're more skeptical about the humans involved in the influence.
Tracy Arrington: They ask a lot of really difficult questions about ethics and about who's actually making the decisions. I had a really intense conversation in class a couple of years ago when we're talking about content online, and several major brands had completely abandoned YouTube because they couldn't control their content.
Tracy Arrington: A lot of brand messaging was showing up alongside white supremacist videos and whatnot, and entered into a conversation about what is inappropriate content? Who makes that decision? And one of my students said, "I took a trip over spring break and I basically blogged about the trip, I had Facebook stories running Instagram, just wall to wall content about this trip." And she said, "I posted a picture of myself in a bathing suit and my friends responded with compliments. But those compliments to an algorithm, because they included profanity would likely have been deemed inappropriate, but they weren't in my social circle."
Tracy Arrington: She said, "I don't want any of the content associated with my vacation taken down as inappropriate because it contained curse words." If you simply scrubbed for profanity, she said, "That's a cultural thing." And if there's somebody sitting in a room saying, anytime you curse it's inappropriate and content should be removed. She said, "I don't think that's okay." And the entire class erupted into a question of what's appropriate, what's not appropriate. The social police... who's making those decisions? And they're really tough questions to answer. They really, really are.
James: That sounds like an amazing class. I wish I was sitting in that class just see what the response was from these Gen Zers, they'd been immersed in it their whole lives. I think you're right. I think there is a sense of, "This has always been there. We're being targeted and getting ads that are very tailored to us, which is so different for our generations because we always dealt with just the multiple big brand awareness.
James: It's like, "Okay, well this doesn't apply to me, this commercial.
Tracy Arrington: That's right.
James: But now I think they're okay with that. But no, I think there's definitely a very big instance where it's insane that there's kids talking about that stuff. I guess what I would ask too is, what were their response typically with that, who is the person who should roll this? Is it Zuckerberg? Are they blaming a certain person, or what is the response to that?
Tracy Arrington: I think it was interesting to point out that most people follow the mob mentality, right? Someone else will take care of this, or should take care of this. If someone is being harmed and there are a 100 people standing around, no one does anything and then afterwards you ask, "There were a 100 people there, why did no one step forward to help this person?"
Tracy Arrington: And it's because there's that mob mentality that when there are that many people involved, someone else will take care of it. And I encouraged them to never use the phrase, "Well someone should do something." Who is that someone? That's a nebulous answer. If it's going to be changed, you need to do it, right? And if not you specifically, how can you contribute to finding a solution?
Tracy Arrington: Saying there's a problem, acknowledging it is a first step, but it's not the end of the conversation. If this is really important to you, what can you do to help change it, to help solve the problem, to drive the conversation. And that's tough, especially for the younger generation because they haven't been out on their own, and they've been protected to a certain extent by parents and teachers to say, "You have to be the change you want to see in the world." Let's go get cliche about it-
James: We didn't do the job but you guys could do it.
Tracy Arrington: That's right. Progress has to start somewhere. We need leaders and those leaders are not just people that understand the analytics. There are people with soft skills also. That's kind of the aha, for a lot of business leaders right now. We can have analysts, we can have data scientists all day long, but if we don't have people with soft skills that can inject that humanity in it, there's no point.
Tracy Arrington: That's what we look for in guiding brand leaders and certainly what I try to instill with my students to go ahead and be those leaders, we need good people. Ethical people working in the space.
James: And not always on your phone, on Instagram, which I know as always that's becoming the downfall of society apparently.
Tracy Arrington: Apparently. But for as much of that as there is, it is really inspiring to work with young people and see there a lot of highly engaged people with great passion for making the world better. And that's pretty outstanding.
James: Yes, more than ever. I think they've grown up in it, which is, I think that's been the theme the past 15-20 years. Whether it's climate change or data privacy and all that stuff, there's definitely a cry out there for people. Well Tracy, it's been great talking, honestly, you gave us so much information. Do you have anything else to add with just brands? And obviously Brain+Trust, who you work with and just anything you'd like to add as far as people out there who are trying to navigate this space.
James: You said ask a lot of questions, which is great. You could probably leave it at that, but if you have any other recommendations anybody when they're trying to find providers or partners-
Tracy Arrington: Ask the right questions. I guess my best piece of advice, well, let me back up and say I spent the past nearly 25 years in the advertising agency world, and it was wonderful. I wouldn't trade a second of it, but I left that world because of data and how it's changing what we do from a communication standpoint. I wanted to be more hands on to helping to build infrastructure of the future for brands.
Tracy Arrington: My biggest piece of advice for anyone in business or anyone looking to study business is to not only ask questions but ask the right questions, and be agnostic in how you find solutions. Work to find the best solution. Be hesitant if someone comes into the room and says, "This is our prescription for success. Because there's so many different ways to be successful and so many different factors that prescriptions don't work.
Tracy Arrington: One size fits all is a dangerous thing. In seeking solutions, seek advisors and seek consultants and mentors that are truly agnostic and consider all the factors, because it's never as easy as people think it is. And that's what led me to Brain+Trust, versus some other potential employers that that had interest in the data infrastructure space. Because that agnostic point of view to me is the best possible solution.
James: It's great advice. I mean, for even life, just don't always trust the same source over and over again. Well, thanks for joining us here on The Q, Tracy. It's been a pleasure.
Tracy Arrington: Thanks so much for having me. It's been great.
James: This episode of the podcast is brought to you by Q1 Media. Q1 Media partners with agencies and brands all across the nation for all of their digital marketing needs, whether it's CTV, OTT, location-based, mobile device ID targeting, search engine marketing, targeted display, research and data that you might need for your clients.
James: Whatever it is, Q1 Media can help with all your marketing efforts. Please check out Q1 Media's website at q1media.com. That's q1media.com, and you can view case studies, examples of our work, or even check out episodes of the Q, the Podcast, Conversations in Digital Media.
Speaker 1: Thank you for listening.
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