A pullback, slowdown, recession or whatever you want to call it, often exposes big opportunities for people and companies that are wise to the bigger picture.  This is exactly what I think is going to happen in the world of online advertising data.

The ad networks figured this out a while ago.  As did the behavioral targeting firms.  The ‘big guys’, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft all own ad networks and behavioral targeting technologies, so by definition, they’ve also sort of figured it out if not implicitly.

What I mean is that online advertising whether its search, display, video, pop-over, pop-under, affiliate, or whatever essentially is a commodity.  The real and tangible value resides in the data (and one could argue the creative).  This data-value contention is what will eventually separate winners from losers and in the process cause all sort of interesting havoc.

My premise is that most online publishers are fickle.  So are the brands.  They seek to get the best performance, period.  To publishers that means quality advertising that generates them good returns on their investment in publishing and engaging readers.  To the advertisers, that means engagement with their brand in a way that (eventually) generates sales.

The trick here is that understanding the performance of what works, what doesn’t, why/why not, and how to improve is the critical component.  The creative process of course has a huge roll to play here, but I think that roll will always accrue to those that are truly creative.  The data piece of this puzzle is much more up for grabs.

Think of it this way:  An ad agency works on a campaign for Nike, they run it across many types of online media.  Its either successful or not.  Who then owns the data about the efficacy?  The agency? The media buying firm? The ad networks? The ‘big guys’?  What if Google decides to take that data and help Adidas?

The fantastic thing about online advertising is that nearly everything can be instrumented, measured, analyzed, experimented-with, tuned and tweaked.  There is a transparency that makes it a compelling place for advertisers and consumers to connect like never before.  The real battle that will wage shortly is behind the scenes and it will be fascinating to watch it play out.