I swear, I am not a geek. But I could hear myself sounding like one asking Google’s top ad execs some tough, albeit incredibly wonky questions Thursday morning during a “salon-style” breakfast with the New York advertising press, making my peers wince and roll their eyes like they were chanting “Oh, Mandese” in unison. I actually felt bad, but it was a unique opportunity, because it’s rare for the Googlers to go on-the-record in a public setting like that. So my colleagues may have wanted ot know about Google’s plans for integrating with the Super Bowl, but I was more interested in how they are shifting the marketplace, and how they are utilizing the unprecedented power of their data to do it. Due to the setting, I didn’t get the kind of answers I really wanted, but I got one really surprising one. Google doesn’t know how big its market actually is. And that scares me, because if Google can’t organize its own world’s information, how can it do it for the rest of us?
Specifically, it doesn’t know how big its programmatic marketplace is, even though it said it knows how fast it’s growing, and who it’s growing from. According to Scott Spencer, director of product management for the DoubleClick Ad Exchange, Google’s programmatic business is growing by about 50% year-over-year, and much of that expansion is coming from a shift “from direct response to brand” advertisers using its programmatic platforms.
When I asked Spencer how big the programmatic marketplace, he said he didn’t actually know, but that Google has “billions” of advertisers using its programmatic platforms -- both search and display. The problem with that number is that the Google execs estimated they only reach about 1.8 billion unique users, so if I do the math, that means Google has more advertisers than it has people to serve their ads to.
When I asked Spencer how he knew the growth was coming from brand advertisers, he said it was based on the types of ads Google was seeing bought through its programmatic platforms. In other words, it’s a value judgement.
I’m not saying that I don’t believe programmatic is growing, and that it’s not growing among brand advertisers willing ot pay publishers more of a premium. I’m just saying I’m surprised Google doesn’t have a more precise view of how, when, where, why and with whom that is happening.
For example, when Spencer told the ad industry reporters that programmatic buys yielding CPMs above $5 were growing 21% and ones yielding over $10 were growing 17%, I asked him what the rate of growth was for buys yielding under $5 CPMs and he said he didn’t know, but that they were growing too.Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a complicated business. An I increasingly find myself asking complicated follow-up questions to people trying to explain it. I just expect that some of them might know the answers, especially if they run Google.