Dan Goodman at Ogilvy — the interactive guru — made a statement today during a discussion about metrics and optimization that made me stop, think hard, and then ask him to back up.

“Don’t over-engineer things,” he said.

As the interactive marketing guy for the company that makes the best-engineered PCs, who is often the only non-engineer in most meetings; the guy who only passed algebra II because the teacher was his coach, who sat at a dinner last night in NYC and listened to the inimitable Uncle Fester from this blog’s comments tell my eldest son that his father “was a serious math retard …”

For me to hear an A-team interactive marketing guy tell me not to be over-weening in online advertising, behavioral targeting, multivariate testing, A|B analysis, demographic segmentation, continuous improvement`cycles, dashboards, NPV, E-to-R ….

Well, it made my day to hear someone throw a bucket of cold water and basically say, there’s so far you can take it.
The maddening thing about web marketing is it represents a collision of the logical precision of information technology with the creative chaos of media. Maddening because in theory one should be able to measure and improve with a high degree of precision. But in practice no one has enough, time, money or talent to get to the Valhalla vision that in theory, you know is possible.

As T.S. Eliot wrote in The Hollow Men:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

That’s what keeps me grinding away in the online medium — the idea, the promise, the illusion that if you do it all just right, it will all start to swing along on its own. Integrating metrics with a content management system and an ad server, building a neat little closed system that sort of self-optimizes …..

The reality is fouled up insertion orders, weird metric tagging, site errors, and that big unknown … user behavior. Yet, I suspect every online operator — from the service providers, the agencies, the publishers, the bloggers, the vloggers, the podcasters — will, if caught in the right optimistic mood, express an idealistic hope that online media is the most perfectable medium ever known.

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