27. Rex Briggs – the theory of Marketing Evolution

Rex founded Marketing Evolution in 2000 to build on the cross-channel measurement and audience insight techniques he started to develop as a young researcher at Yankelovich and Wired in the mid-1990s.

You can find a meticulous biography of Rex right here and his outfit Marketing Evolution continues to add value here. These days Rex is a speaker, author, visionary pundit and very entertaining podcast guest, as Marty and Jill discover this week.

He has been working in and around the area of ad effectiveness and impact measurement since the early days of digital. He was Wired’s first chief researcher, starting in 1995, at a time when staffers sat on desks made out of hollow-core doors and filing cabinets in an effort “to seem more start-up-y.”

Wired Offices in San Francisco in Early 1996

Rex applied experiments on the HotWired home page. This version from late 1995 is an example of the type of page benefitting from his neural network-driven optimization approach. (For a fascinating look back at HotWired’s history and design evolution, check out this article. There was apparently “nasty fighting” over the idea of putting ads on the home page; in a magazine paradigm, covers were ad-free.)

Rex became known for pioneering an ad effectiveness testing methodology that used test-and-control design and intercept surveys to determine the impact of particular ad campaigns on self-reported purchase intent. The method used different servers and the substitution of public-service ads (PSAs) in a set-up that later became a standard way to measure the impact of digital ads. It was widely noticed and adopted by industry bodies such as the IAB. (You can find the full study here.)

Rex founded Marketing Evolution in 2000 as an alternative to joining the research team at Amazon — a decision made, he says, mostly for reasons of meteorology (rain) and matrimonial harmony. His vision was to develop a platform that could combine online and offline impression and sales data in a unified framework, to determine the ultimate drivers of ad effectiveness and consumer motivation. It was an ambitious vision that remains active today.

Rex is the author of What Sticks: Why Advertising Fails and How to Guarantee Yours Succeeds (2006), which espoused the ‘4 M’s’ of Measurement, Media (placement), Message (creative) and Maximization. He later wrote about social media impact and a phenomenon he called “The Momentum Effect.” And in 2012, he published SIRFs Up – Catching the Next Wave in Marketing: The Story of How Spend To Impact Response Functions (SIRFs), Algorithms and Software Are Changing the Face of Marketing.

In this reflective conversation, Rex tells Jill and Marty why the dot-com boom “wasn’t as boom-y” for him as for others; why Wired was such a great place to work; what he didn’t foresee about the dangers of clustering algorithms; and what we can all learn from the development of (living) trees.

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