Nate Silver blows up 'big data' at IAB Leadership confab

Geoffrey Precourt

American marketers are awash in information. Seemingly, the abundance of facts and figures should enable advertisers to pinpoint trends, measure engagement, and predict results.

Equally, however, using data to improve advertising efficacy is one of the most foreboding challenges faced by digital marketers - in particular, some 800-plus marketing digerati assembled in Phoenix, Arizona, this week for the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB) annual Thought Leadership conference.

But, even at an event that carries the theme, "Big Data & Big Ideas: Friends, Enemies, or Frenemies," it was clear that no one has been able to see through all the informational clutter …

… except for one guy: Nate Silver. He earned the respect of America's toughest critics - baseball fans - when he threw past performance statistics, ballpark projections, likelihood of performance decline with age, and a variety of subtleties into an algorithm that predicted the likelihood of success.

Nate Silver addresses the IAB's Thought Leadership Conference

He then turned the same skill set to politics. While Democrats and Republicans spent billions of dollars trying to persuade voters that the 2012 Presidential election was a hotly-contested down-to-the-wire competition, Silver's New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog (named for the 538 Congressional districts across the US) - calmly used data to predict a clear Obama victory, with accurate readings for all 50 states. His performance was almost as powerful for Senatorial campaigns, where he hit on 31 of 33 states.