WPP has hatched a plan to invest more than $200m (£146m) to build a new data operation housed within media agency Group M, as part of global chief executive Mark Read’s strategy to focus on “data-driven marketing rather than data ownership”.
The move comes two years after the marketing services giant flogged off a majority stake of data insight business Kantar to pay off debts. It will see many of the data resources housed in the likes of MediaCom and Mindshare pooled into the new Group M unit, which is also building a new data-driven technology system and consulting operation.
The new group will house Group M’s existing technology, including its automated buying, planning and analytics system and will include data consulting and strategy services, as well as WPP-owned data assets, including those run by Wunderman Thompson. Dedicated Wunderman staff will also move to the new operation.
WPP boss Read said the goal is to build a capability that is common across all of WPP, led by Group M, “given the proximity of data and media”.
He added that the group is eyeing a number of acquisitions to bolster its analytics and artificial intelligence offering but rather than buy a large, existing data business, it wants to use its internal resources, as well as plug into external martech firms.
The plan has its roots back in the Sorrell-era, when in 2016 Group M launched a global technology suite, uniting the customer information held by all WPP data divisions. Dubbed the “M Platform”, the scheme is accessible to all media planners at Group M agencies to use detailed consumer data to achieve results for their clients.
A year earlier, WPP had been in pole position to buy DunnHumby from Tesco, although ultimately this deal collapsed following wrangling over price and future contracts.
Since then, rivals have been snapping up data businesses like they are going out of fashion; IPG swooped for Acxiom in 2018 in a $2.3bn (£1.7bn) deal, Publicis paid $3.95bn (£3.1bn) to acquire Epsilon in 2019 and boost its “Power of One” proposition and Dentsu has been building a data-driven powerhouse following its $1.5bn (£1.1bn) acquisition of Merkle.
Not that WPP’s current data strategy has been found wanting; late last year Walgreens Boots Alliance reappointed the group as its global marketing and communications partner, with a brief to implement an integrated mass-personalisation marketing strategy.
WPP had handled the account since 2017 and set up a division called Team WBA to service the business. It also scooped the Advantage Card brief out of Lida (now M&C Saatchi), after nearly a decade; the loyalty scheme has been pursuing a digital-first strategy since 2019.
And, earlier this year WPP signed a global data-driven deal with video sharing giant TikTok in a move designed to give its agencies and their clients early access to new advertising platforms as they are being developed – including formats such as augmented reality – to tap into the exponential growth of the site.
As such, WPP will be the lead agency development partner to new creator-focused APIs, which will incorporate WPP’s brand safety methodology, while tapping into brand and marketer “data signals”. The goal of these new solutions will be to enable brands to gain deeper insights on creators, connect with diverse voices and have early access to these creators for their campaigns.
At the time, Read said: “Our clients want new and innovative ways to reach consumers. TikTok has quickly demonstrated the power of mobile video and the many opportunities that exist for brands to engage in meaningful and creative ways on its platform. I am delighted that we have formed this global partnership, a first in our industry, and look forward to working with TikTok to ensure our clients continue to benefit from what its platform has to offer.”
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