From “Mad Men” to “Math Men”: The Rise of Expertise in Digital Measurement and The Shaping of Online Consumer Freedom

Thierry P Viale, Yves Gendron, Roy Suddaby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
426 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose – We study how communication agencies became important sites for the rise of measurement expertise in the government of consumer conduct following the development of online consumption. Our examination focuses on the processes by which digital measurement developed (within the agencies) as a new legitimate form of expertise, able to produce relevant and detailed knowledge about the government of web-users.

Design/methodology/approach – We carried out a field examination in France, predicated on 100 interviews with actors involved in communication consultancy. Drawing on the concepts of governmentality and inter-jurisdictional experimentation, we examine how digital measurement expertise acquired legitimacy within agencies. We also analyze how contemporary technologies of measurement and surveillance, as operated by in-house digital experts, provide advertising specialists and advertisers with increasingly precise data on consumer conduct and thought.

Findings – The constitution and legitimization of digital measurement expertise was characterized by experimentation, culminating in the production of persuasive claims of tangibility concerning communication impact, and in relative agreement on the relevance of digital expertise in operating increasingly powerful technologies of measurement and surveillance.

Originality/value – While the role of experts in promoting and implementing neoliberal governmentality is emphasized in the literature, our study indicates that considerable work is needed to develop and legitimize expertise consequent with neoliberalism. Also, our analysis highlights that the spread of digital measurement expertise and knowledge production in the government of web-users constitutes a noteworthy step in the neo-liberalization of society. Behind the front of “free” conduct lies an increasingly powerful network of technologies and expertise aimed at rendering consumer conduct knowable and predictable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-305
Number of pages36
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • communication consultancy
  • consumer behavior
  • digital expertise
  • inter-jurisdictional experimentation
  • neoliberal governmentality
  • measurement

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