– Jason Voiovich, Vice President, Marketing, Logic PD

Ad agencies are in a bit of a data land grab.

For the past five years, the big agencies conglomerates have been falling over themselves to acquire or build digital marketing practices. More recently, that focus has evolved into an unstoppable urge to not miss the boat on “big data”. Heck, just look at the list of speakers from the just-passed Ad Age Data Conference. As just one example, ad giant Ogilvy & Mather hired Todd Cullen as “Global Chief Data Officer” away from quantitative data consulting firm Bridgevine. Perhaps more telling is where he is not from. He’s not from Y&R. Not from Saatchi. Not from any of the “big name” ad agencies where important hires typically originate.

The potential is clear: Big data holds the promise of more intimate and more immediate customer relationships. The competitive advantage of which is critical to the future success of today’s top brands.

But the ad agencies aren’t the only ones with their eye on data-driven customer relationship management.

For many of us, Oracle’s recent acquisition of Responsys may have flown under the radar. But it shouldn’t have.

The Responsys elevator pitch is pretty simple: software that seamlessly integrates digital campaigns including email, mobile, social, and display through any channel, anywhere, anytime.

So why is that important to Oracle?

As corporate marketing departments overtake finance and operations as the key internal consumers of IT resources, the big database providers are taking notice. They’ve seen non-traditional competitors such as Salesforce.com and Adobe invent (or reinvent) themselves as Marketing Information Systems providers in order to get a share of the corporate IT budget. Oracle couldn’t resist.

My premise boils down to this: At what point will “Big Data” (namely, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce.com, etc.) decide to integrate to the next logical step and begin buying “Big Ad”. When will Oracle decide to buy Publicis Groupe. Or is vice versa more likely? Will Interpublic buy Salesforce.com?

It’s an interesting question. And without any inside knowledge, I tend to follow some very simple advice: Follow the money. Let’s see who can afford to buy who. Not accounting for any M&A magic (leveraged buyouts, stock swaps, etc.), let’s simply examine cash on hand:

First, Big Data:
IBM, $10.4Bn
Oracle, $14.6Bn
Salesforce.com, $0.7Bn
Microsoft, $3.8Bn

Second, Big Ad:
Publicis Groupe, $1.3Bn
Omnicom Group, $2.7Bn
WPP, $2.3Bn
Interpublic Group, $2.6Bn

Suffice it to say, Oracle bought Responsys with plenty of room to spare. Of course, looking at M&A potential based on a cash-on-hand analysis is barely legitimate, but it does highlight the disparity in market position. The average Big Data company is an order of magnitude larger than the biggest Big Ad conglomerate.

A few good questions that come to mind:

Would such a merger pass muster from an anti-trust perspective?

What are the legal protections for data?

How might this impact intellectual property law? In the US? Globally?

But perhaps the most interesting question is this:

In the wake of the Snowden affair and revelations about the depth and breadth of the NSA’s surveillance programs, how comfortable are we with the potential of one company controlling access to so much data combined with with the ability to strategically influence the subjects of said data? (Or to the less trusting observer, manipulate.) Given our propensity to share anyway, and the potential efficiency and good that can come from more effective communication, do the benefits of such a merger outweigh the risks?

I don’t know what I think about that yet. But I am thinking about it. And so should you.