Ad Spotlight: Samantha Lister, Senior Director Data Solutions

  • 5 minutes read
  • United Kingdom
  • 11/09/2021
Ad Spotlight: Samantha Lister, Senior Director Data Solutions

Welcome to the Ad Spotlight series where we hear from a different guest from the industry each month to get an insight into the landscape of advertising as well as their own personal experiences.

Our guest this month is Samantha Lister. Finecast’s Senior Director, Data Solutions completed a PhD in computational quantum physics at The University of Kent before starting a career in advertising 11 years ago.

There aren’t many people who know more about data – and how it applies in advertising – than Samantha, so we sat down to quiz her on the future of data in the industry.


Q: Why did you choose a career in advertising?

A: I completed my PhD in theoretical physics but knew I didn’t want to stay in academia. So, I applied for a data analytics job in advertising – which isn’t as big of a jump as it sounds – that would let me put my interest in data to good use.

I didn’t know anything about the industry when I arrived at the interview but was sold the moment I walked in thanks largely to the office atmosphere. A sharp contrast to the university halls I had just left behind.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the industry right now?

A: There is a risk people can drown in data. Non-useful data can be made to look appealing with a fancy UI, so it is easy for people to be seduced by insights that don’t actually tell you anything.

In essence, there is “noise”, “interesting data” and “useable data”. And it is really important we help people see the difference. It’s all about helping people differentiate between what is nice to know (e.g. the time of day a campaign delivers data) and what can actually inform the right decisions for your campaign or business (e.g. incremental reach).

Q: Sum up the future of advertising in three words…

A: Creative. Complex. Captivating… and TV as a bonus fourth.

Q: What is your biggest career highlight?

A: Transitioning from working at tech companies into an agency environment. It exposed me to much more of the industry, pushed me outside my comfort zone, and allowed me to develop from a very reserved data specialist into a much more confident person. It taught me that the best way to learn new things is to make yourself uncomfortable and that is something I’ve carried with me ever since.

Q: And your favourite ad?

A. It’s not a TV ad, but one that incorporates smart data use is the Coca Cola names campaign from a few years ago. With the help of name analysis from Experian, they mined the data to see what names were popular in different locations and placed the appropriate bottles in those locations to create something that felt very personal. It wasn’t all happy coincidence!

You’re a leading light in the data field so let’s take a deep dive into one of the growing areas of advertising…

Q: Where are the most exciting data innovations taking place?

A. We sometimes forget how far TV advertising has come in recent years. The fact we can deliver truly relevant ads into TV content is so powerful. Television is impactful anyway but adding addressability and delivering to households that are a match for a brand’s audience is amazing.

Applying data sources and data intelligence are really important to shape addressability and the TV landscape. Data is the key ingredient to drive addressability which, in turn, drives the relevance, which drives the engagement, which elevates the impact of TV.

Q: What are the most valuable metrics clients use and is this changing?

A. The most valuable metric(s) for any client are ones that show how well their media plan is performing against their objectives. Everyone is looking to make their budgets work in the smartest way and increase revenue.

But there is certainly a shift in focus when it comes to the associated value of impressions and reach metrics. It’s shifting from view through rates and viewability to metrics such as attention. The latter helps brands get closer to a measure of the actual value of a reach point by showing how consumers actually engage with the content.

It might sound a little sci-fi, but companies that conduct attention research track eyeball movement and emotion to measure passive vs. active attention. Essentially, if people are actually looking at the screen or not. After all, an ad could measure 100% viewability but that isn’t impactful if people are second screening on their mobile while the ad runs.

Q: What about the concerns around security and privacy of individual data?

A. To be honest, so much of it is mis-representation. No matter what data is collected on TV it is never going to reveal who you are as an individual or anything intimate about you. You are really just a data point and a number.

The data we collect isn’t about individuals. It is about a device and is turned into a number and data point. TV will never be the “big brother” following you around the internet and we’re never trying to get to that point. At Finecast we use relevant and smart data points to improve the experience for viewers and brands.

I may be biased, but even from a consumer perspective I’m not personally too concerned. If you could decipher my mother’s emails and tell me what she means it would be helpful, though!

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