Katherine Levy: It's time to clear up this Xaxis data conspiracy theory
A view from Katherine Levy

Katherine Levy: It's time to clear up this Xaxis data conspiracy theory

It is understandable that some observers in the advertising industry choose to celebrate when a media independent claims a chunk of business against the marketing behemoth WPP.

After all, it would be a pretty drab world if there was just one network to do business with. So a bit of healthy competition and cheering for the underdog is by no means a bad occupation.

But I do think it's unfair to lambast Group M for the sake of it - or presume it employs the dark arts to further its business success.

This is what many people have levelled at Group M's audience-buying arm Xaxis, which launched to great fanfare last summer. Before anyone had worked out how to pronounce the word "Xaxis", a rumour that the company's clients were being forced to hand over control of their data when signing on the dotted line began to circulate.

The belief that Xaxis clients have to sign away their data - and thus the souls of their businesses - remains alive and well. But this is incorrect. Some sceptics also claim that this intelligence could be used by Group M to the advantage of another Group M client, if the original client ever leaves (something Group M convincingly denies).

The truth is Xaxis clients are not obliged to sign away ownership of their data. They are, however, given the choice to opt in to an additional data pooling service, whereby similar clients (let's say, for example, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz) may both benefit from sharing second-party data (ie. data that is non-client-specific but tells Xaxis that a user has clicked, in this scenario, on an automotive campaign). First-party data, whereby Xaxis knows a user has been spending time on the Jaguar website but has yet to convert, is ring-fenced and would never be used to the advantage of Mercedes-Benz, Group M insists.

As numerous Group M digerati have told me (and I believe them), to not robustly protect first-party data would be mass-WPP suicide. In any case, we all know that the shelf life of this information is often shorter than that of a pint of milk. This alone, therefore, makes it a weak argument that it would be worth Xaxis' time to play off one client's data against another's, should one leave.

The Xaxis supplementary pooling feature may not be the best solution for every client, but it is an option. Group M believes (as does every network) that it has the best audience-buying solution. But rather than carping on about a Xaxis data conspiracy, wouldn't it be more productive to focus on real issues, such as whether Xaxis' proprietory model is more effective than agencies using external demand-side platforms?

Surely that is time better spent.