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Madison Avenue’s moonshot is fueled by 1s and 0s

June 26, 2014

The date is June 26, 1969. Mankind is getting ready to launch three brave astronauts into space; two of which will walk on the surface of the moon and change history forever. Meanwhile, another change is taking place: the rise of the computer in the workplace and the importance of applying data to decision making at high speed and high capacity across long distances. Such is the case in the world of advertising. Join us as we take “one small step” back in time to experience “one giant leap” in the origins of big data. 

In a decade when man aims to explore the lunar surface (and with the first attempt at landing mere weeks away) the needs of the modern media planner has a “moonshot” to accomplish as well.

The traditional media process has always been one of creativity and time. Creativity is an advantage. The cleverer you are, the better the campaigns you can develop. Time, on the other hand, can be a disadvantage. The more time you take to deliver those clever campaigns, the slower your client is to realize a return on the sizeable investment they have made in your agency. 

The responsibilities of media planning and buying teams, along with post-campaign analysis, are among the most important along Madison Avenue. However, they take the most amount of time. In order to be successful, these teams have to manually process tremendous amounts of information to reach the large audiences that their clients want to engage.  In most cases, this process can take weeks or months. At best, that can result in a frustrated client. At worst, it can result in missed opportunities with consumers who are ready-to-buy.

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To handle these vast volumes of information in this modern era, giant computers are being introduced into the office environment at an increasing pace—and sent aloft into orbit as well! As we become more familiar with these processing machines, a different term is being used to describe various types of business information, including the types used in advertising: data.

The power of data cannot easily be harnessed or matched. With the ideal applications of technology and talent, a process that typically takes months or weeks may only take days or, in some cases, even hours! But fear not, dear readers, for the rise of these machines is not necessarily meant to replace your valuable staff clicking away on their typewriters, the account executives dining their clients downtown or even the market researchers who manage the focus groups taking place in some far off conference room. This is about old, slower processes meeting a new, faster workplace revolution. This is about speed and productivity, competitive differentiation, corporate status and, most of all, being able to do things you never thought you could.

Enter the IBM System/360 Mainframe Computer and its unmatched ability to transform advertising from a thing of the past and present into the frontier of the future. This one new computer fills all your data processing needs!

System/360 was developed to perform information handling jobs encompassing all types of applications. It includes in its central processors 19 combinations of graduated speed and memory capacity and more than 40 types of peripheral equipment which store and manage data. Built-in communications capability makes System/360 instantly available to remote terminals, regardless of distance. If you have a media planner in New York but your West Coast Media Buyer is in Los Angeles, you no longer have to rely on slow, manual processes that can negatively impact the reach and exposure of your client’s local and national campaigns. Instead, you finally have the speed you need to launch on time, on budget and in the places your client wants to be seen.

Furthermore, System/360 core storage memory capacity ranges from 8,000 characters of information to an impressive 8,000,000 or more characters! And if that’s not enough memory to meet the demands of even your largest clients, storage devices linked to the system can store additional billions of bits of data and make them available for processing at varying speeds, depending on need. This could include, data from station formats, pricing rates, demographics, geographics and psychographics relating to a client’s particular product, service or audience objectives.

IBM System 360.pngFor example, an award winning advertising agency based in New York City recently chose the IBM System/360 Model 65 to speed up the process and accuracy of optimizing media they purchases on behalf of their clients, which include an impressive lineup of popular national consumer brands. The agency’s media buyers can now purchase spots, regionally or nationally, with a much lower time-to-deployment versus their competitors. The agency no longer has to take the time to manually factor for determinates such as rates, demand of leads, space, time or state licenses, which can vary greatly. They can now efficiently generate mixed media strategies that can be adaptable from area-to-area and also work with a high degree of accuracy on a national level to reach the audiences that today’s leading consumer product goods clients want on a regular basis.

So put down those piles of punch cards, stop spending your weekends reviewing cost-per-point guides and let the System/360’s solid state technology determine the expenditure versus return for radio, TV, magazines, newspapers and out of home (such as billboards and ads on your local bus line).

In the meantime, as the end of the 1960’s is upon us, you have to ask yourself: is my agency ready for the computer revolution? 


Back here in 2014, we can see that data-driven advertising is not necessarily unique to our decade. Data has been instrumental in improving the media planning and buying process for a long, long time. This throwback to the 60s, with a nod to AMC’s Mad Men, reminds us that there is a revolution of our own taking place. And, like the introduction of the mainframe, it’s having an equal if not greater effect. 

Big data and analytics have already made programmatic advertising and real-time bidding more than a reality. They are a common practice. What used to take mere “days or hours” is now measured in milliseconds or less. And, as such, audience targeting and marketing measurement have become far more accurate.

It seems that the “frontier of the future” is still ripe with innovation.

Can you imagine where we’ll be in another 60 years?

Read more about the IBM System/360 and smarter applications of big data and analytics in media and entertainment