Google's Big Move: Targeting Contexts, Not Screens

Clearly everyone in digital advertising is still digesting the impact of Google’s rollout of Enhanced Campaigns” earlier this week. The new model allows for (and in some cases requires) unified desktop, tablet and mobile AdWord buying, allowing the advertiser to tweak how bids are made on desktop and mobile screens and set bidding parameters against key targeting considerations like proximity to a location.

Google watchers have seen this change coming for a while. It addresses several business challenges that mobile posed for the company. Since last year’s research report from Google outlining how consumers tap multiple platforms throughout a day in researching and deciding on purchases, the push has been on at Big G to de-emphasize the gadget. Obviously, mobile advertising generally does not yet deliver the revenue of the desktop even as users migrate quickly off the desktop. Presumably, melding mobile and desktop AdWords will elevate mobile pricing.

Social media platform Kenshoo was generally enthusiastic about Google's change, though less so for its pricing implications. Will Martin-Gill, General Manager, Kenshoo Search says, “We expect Google's enhanced campaigns to accelerate mobile adoption, which could create more competition -- and potentially higher cost per click depending on bid strategy, though it’s too early to tell.”

Kenshoo reports that on its platform in the U.S. 19% of paid search clicks come from phones or tablets, but they represent just 13% of spend. The divide is slightly higher in the U.K., where 21% of paid clicks come from devices, representing 13% of spend.

The mobile lead at Mella Media, Jordan Greene, was more certain that Google’s changes would cost mobile marketers more time and money in the short run. "While Google's goals are to offer increased targeting and tools based on a user's context and device capabilities, the short-term for advertisers will be rough,” he tells me. “They will potentially need a good amount of labor to adapt their existing campaigns into ‘enhanced’ shape. From a pricing standpoint, the CPCs on display ads on mobile phones and tablet will be artificially inflated, as the waters get muddied together."

The conceptual shift is away from technology and toward context. As Ansible CEO Angela Steele says, “Consumers see it all as one Internet connected by various screens -- so we as marketers should treat it that way, too.” She compliments Google for offering a solution that at once addresses the new screen agnosticism and also provides tools for tailoring campaigns to target location, device capabilities, etc. 

I am not entirely convinced of the principle of screen agnosticism myself. Sitting in the same armchair in front of the TV, I am in fact expecting different things and engaging in different activities on smartphone, tablet and laptop. And the blending of tablet and desktop is already raising questions among some marketers who have seen markedly different content consumption and even e-commerce behaviors on the two platforms.

The Google Enhanced Campaigns also addresses another choke point for mobile marketing spending: conversions. In fact, many marketers were porting their online definition of a conversion to the mobile world and thus finding results lacking. The new meme of mobile lately has been that people do indeed browse and research on devices, but “convert” elsewhere (for example, in store or on the desktop). Marketers complain that along with the many other metrics and tracking hassles inherent to devices, it is also just harder to attribute the role of the device in securing a lead or a sale.The AdWords blog includes an effort to expand the definition of conversion to favor mobile activities. “To help you measure the full value of your campaigns, enhanced campaigns enables you to easily count calls and app downloads as conversions in your AdWords reports," the company writes.

Expect to hear a lot from Google about context and conversions in coming months. It is an important discussion to have, whether or not we agree with the company's framing and construction of the issue. At next week’s Mobile Insider Summit on Captiva Island, Google's Head of Mobile Solutions, NA, Bon Mercado, will be speaking about the multiscreen world. And at our special OMMA Mobile program at SXSW next month, Head of Mobile & Social Solutions Tim Reis will speak specifically about the role of context.

Apart from operational hassles and increased costs for mobile marketers, Google's Enhanced Campaigns likely adds up to a net plus for the mobile platform overall. It calls attention to the value of portability, proximity and personalization. It comes closer to building models that reflect the complex and nuanced process that is the consumer journey towards decisions. And it does what I think is the best byproduct of personal gadgetry: bringing marketers and media companies into more intimate contact with their customers.

When we stop thinking of consumers occupying only the media contexts we built for them (living room prime time, drive time, office radio and desktop Web time, morning newspaper time, weekend movie time, etc.), then content gets closer to real life, and the contexts people build themselves.

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2 comments about "Google's Big Move: Targeting Contexts, Not Screens".
  1. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network , February 8, 2013 at 2:50 p.m.
    A 100% empirical observation, involving a very small slice of the demographic ... me. I lean heavily towards converting via laptop or desktop, rather than iPhone or tablet, simply because of two things: The larger visuals and info that a larger screen view of the gadget I'm considering offers. And, more importantly, the real or more likely imagined extra security that the laptop or desktop has over my phone and tablet. In short, when I start punching-in the numbers, I'd much rather do it in what I perceive as a safer environment.
  2. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , February 11, 2013 at 1:14 p.m.
    Good article. I think the data shows that for example some consumers treat the Internet as one big channel, but some do not. And some allocate specific venues or times of day for specific purposes, but others do not. IMO the issue is to distinguish between categories of users such as these, so we can target people in harmony with their lifestyles.