Google As 'Good Guy'

Those of us who've been in the interactive biz for a while have grown accustomed to all the grumbling about Google.

You've heard all these grumbles and perhaps grumbled yourself that Google is too big, its ad systems are too opaque, it's just a one-trick pony, it's arrogant, monopolistic, bent on dominating the world, crushing Madison Avenue, sucking all the profit out of e-tailing, etc. (Did I miss anything? Feel free to add your grumble to the comment area below).

The uneasy, tendentious, and sometimes angry relationship between search marketers and Google is quite similar to the one that many U.S. citizens currently have with their government. I mean, isn't it simply awful that we have to pay taxes, stay under the speed limit, fill out our census forms, refrain from sedition, and (sometimes) show ID when we buy an AK-47?

Nobody's saying that Google is perfect, or that the SEM ecosystem couldn't benefit from increased competition. But to those Google detractors who've been loudly cheering from the sidelines whenever Google launches a product that fails (and it's done so many times) or lumbers into the crosshairs of government regulators, all I can say is "be careful what you wish for."

Case in point: Apple, whose new OS-embedded ad platform was just announced last week. I'm not bashing Apple's products here or claiming Steve Jobs isn't a Super Genius, but I don't know of another technology company more fanatically devoted to controlling what its users and partners do than Apple. True, we don't know all the details about how the iPad and iAd are going to work, but we've already received a startling list of prohibitions, eg., No Flash (because Jobs just doesn't like Adobe, it seems), No Sharing Of Metrics With 3rd Parties (and how are you supposed to know how well your ads are performing if you have no metrics?), and even No Creative (Apple, not ad agencies, will create the application-based ads, at least at the beginning).

Of course, Steve Jobs has the right to configure his platform any way he wants. But if iPad/iAd is indicative of the way interactive ad systems are going to function for the long-term, the  landscape of our collective future looks a lot more like North Korea than it does Sausalito.

Which brings us back to Google. I don't think there's a grown-up on the planet who believes that Google's actions are based on humanistic philanthropy. Google, like Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, or Exxon, exists to reward its shareholders, not to make the world a better place. But there's no question that the way companies behave in respect to their customers and partners derive from their unique corporate cultures. For example, Wal-Mart and Costco are both successful retailers but their widely differing attitudes about how to treat their workers make them very different companies to work for and do business with.

The iPad has been called a "polarizing device" because it splits the computing world into those who create and those who consume. For we who do online marketing, it goes even further. By banishing the self-service model from its ad platform, limiting what third-party mobile ad platforms can do, and banishing Flash, the lingua franca of rich media, it exiles all non-Apple parties from the marketplace. Basically, if you want to reach iPad users, it's put up and shut up.

What's truly scary about this regressive model isn't that it attempts to restore the structure of the ad and media world back in the bad old days, it's the fact that Jobs could actually pull this off -- because there are plenty of deep-pocked brand guys out there willing to hand over big bucks to Apple to take their turf back, and they've got plenty of allies in the form of media companies who hope that The Great Leader Jobs will somehow save them from ruin -- a ruin they blame Google for, but which they've largely brought upon themselves.

Where does that leave the rest of us? The folks who run small campaigns, code up our ads in Flash, rely on metrics -- or, in my case, the folks who work at agencies? Have we just been exiled from the new walled garden?

Not necessarily, because iPad/iAd, at least at this stage, is just a vision of the future. The future is still open; closed walled gardens have a miserable history (see AOL), and the human instinct for freedom is at least as powerful as the desire for control and security.

So the next time you find yourself grumbling about Google, think about the kind of future it's already brought to users and marketers. It's far from perfect, but I'd choose a thriving, imperfect ecosystem to a pristine desert any day of the week, and I don't think I'm alone.


Correction: Last Thursday's Search Insider, "Takeaways From SMX Toronto," incorrectly identified Shari Thurow's company affiliation. She is now Founder and SEO Director of Omni Marketing Interactive.

9 comments about "Google As 'Good Guy'".
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  1. Thom Kennon from Free Radicals, April 19, 2010 at 10:45 a.m.

    You said it Steve, and frankly I think you go too light on the Apple/Jobs myopia their eventual costly (for shareholders) miscalculation of the marketplace's tolerance for such dictatorial and closed conditions for selling enduring consumer experiences.

    Add to your list the inconsistent and near-fascist appstore door policy for developers and the delusional obsession with being "un-open" and I think we have every right to be giddy that someday soon the castle will collapse.

    The fact that Google benefits from Apple's strategic mis-steps is for the most part benign. Open-ness is a winner for all players --- large small or in between --- who get it and embrace.

    Thom Kennon

  2. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., April 19, 2010 at 11:21 a.m.

    ...mmm I don't know if I consider myself a grown up - but the "do no evil" motto makes me feel better about the mega monolith. I mean at least Big Brother tries to tell us what he/she's doing. (Would you call Google a "he" or "she?") I like to believe that Google has the type of progressive leadership that's smart enough to calculate value past the bottom line - usability adoption, efficiency gains beyond the profit margins, etc.

    In other words, I like to believe that there are big companies that can see the real value in doing right by share holder and consumer.

  3. Todd Tilley from Wrecking Ball Media, April 19, 2010 at 11:32 a.m.

    I agree with you Steve. I for one am a huge fan of Apple and consider Jobs a great leader and innovator but the closed off models for all their products and services seems short sighted and greedy. Well maybe its just plain greedy. It feels like Apple continues to push the marketplace to its tipping point in regards to how far it can maintain control and garner share of whatever market they deem theirs while setting completely new rules of engagement and process. As long as they dont feel the backlash in their pockets,I'm sure we will, unfortunately, continue to see more of this from Apple. Users need to vote with their wallets and I dont really see any groundbreaking, "cool", products and services that pulls me away from the Apple crack - yet. @toddtilley
    Todd Tilley

  4. Drew Mehl from Binary Pulse Technology Marketing, April 19, 2010 at 11:45 a.m.

    Great post, Steve. Apple's strategy, particularly in a marketplace being drawn inexorably to an open model, continues to baffle and dishearten me. It's still very early in the game, though.

  5. Carol Ackerman from the ackerman group, April 19, 2010 at 12:04 p.m.

    Steve -- totally agree with both your premise and your optimistic conclusions (the iPad, iAM mentality of Jobs presages the future, but we can thrive despite these onerous restrictions). The only concern I have is for the here-and-now small business, small agency that needs to understand the competitive landscape to best serve clients, but does not yet have an alternative to the iPad frenzied product platform. Agencies and clients like mine: local, regional and some international who want us to 'create something for the iPad'.

    I especially appreciated your compare/contrast in the corporate culture in terms of employee and vendor treatment and for that reason alone, will continue to participate in Google beta programs, if only to feel I'm really being listened to. Whether I am or not.

  6. Rob Griffin from Almighty, April 19, 2010 at 12:58 p.m.

    Good write up dude. Very exciting. I for one can't help but applaud Jobs! And you can't deny the sheer usability and sexiness of Apple products for that is the underlying reason they seem to be able to repeatedly change industries. Which, by the way, is the only thing Google has yet been able to do - make lightening strike more than once ... evil or not.

  7. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., April 19, 2010 at 1:15 p.m.

    Sadly, the comparison of Google-grumblers with Tea-Party activists is really quite apt, once you discard the distinction between Google (a corporation that exploited a single technology and usage trend to upend the advertising industry and effectively gut the Fourth Estate) and what we used to call 'Government of the people, by the people, for the people' -- now revealed as a plutonomous travesty engineered by Goldman Sachs and their elected running-dogs. (grin)

    Not sure about the 'open' thing, though. I've met a lot of talented people that 'open stuff' hasn't been kind to: software developers who'd like to be upper middle class; serious, dedicated old-school journalists who'd like a job with benefits; old music- and video-studio rats; CG artists; stage-dressers; media editors ... all sorts of smart, skilled people who discovered that, in some sense, Google or some other revolutionary technology-provider had suddenly made it easy to move their jobs offshore or let their customers squeeze their employers tighter, and tighter, and tighter. Can one really applaud the ('... by the people, for the people ...') egalitarian dimension of open/free/Google/commodification, when the net result, for, say, a former city-desk reporter, has been a vast movement of capital, ten-thousand miles over her head, from an industry that used to have a dignified (if never really well-paid) job for her, to an industry that doesn't?

    So here's Steve Jobs, lucky (and super-talented) beneficiary of his own little revolution in media, and with an opportunity to create a little neighborhood where people can spend part of their time and part of their money doing things they enjoy in a seamless, Apple-y way, and where Jobs and his colleagues can experiment with imagineering and then fine-tuning a set of cultural assumptions about commerce, users, content, and content-creation that may be sustainable, where the current system is just a brutal bi-nodal whirlpool with one foot in hypermonopoly and the other in hypercommodification.

    I say bravo, moi. Complaints about 'walled gardens' in this context all collapse to hand-wringing from folks with a vested interest in disintermediating Steve from his glamorous, demographically-desirable audience and strip-mining their eyeballs. What might be more wholesome is to start thinking about ways to improve the already-stellar iPhone or iPad user experience and really add value.

  8. Shelli Strand from STRAND Marketing, Inc., April 19, 2010 at 2:35 p.m.

    Well said. I think there's still a hangover from the Apple vs Microsoft wars of past. Somehow, because Jobs was the underdog for a while, he's still got this less proprietary 'for the people' reputation that is, well, simply not true. Jobs' strategy is completely walled-garden, for tech, and certainly for marketing. And Google, for all it's 10-pound gorillaness is thriving for the very reason of it's open-garden systems.

    The comment about the brand guys hoping Jobs will save them from ruin is particularly interesting. As someone who has been in tech marketing for years, Apple is famous for it's one-agency, one-mind advertising service provider strategy. It's confusing for those of us who love good branding because, at the same time, Apple is always #1 on the example list of excellent branding. Potentially the only one who does it really right for tech.

    Love hate relationship, for sure, but the deep pocket mad men and women shouldn't be fooled, Jobs is a walled garden kinda guy. He may save you, but your salvation will look - and pay- very differently from your best years in the 90's.

  9. David Pavlicko from AVISPL, April 20, 2010 at 6:25 p.m.

    Excuse me for not agreeing with you Steve, but I have some serious issues with this post.

    1. What the hell is this about:

    'I mean, isn't it simply awful that we have to pay taxes, stay under the speed limit, fill out our census forms, refrain from sedition, and (sometimes) show ID when we buy an AK-47?'

    This statement alone pretty much discredits ANYTHING else you might say. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else thinks just like you. Some of us have brains that actually work. Aren't people just fed up with this type of stereotyping already? (and now you may proceed to call me a racist, since that's obviously the next logical step. sigh.)

    2. What's up with THIS statement: Wal-Mart and Costco are both successful retailers but their widely differing attitudes about how to treat their workers make them very different companies to work for and do business with.

    really, I don't mean to be picky here, but what the hell is wrong with wal-mart? Is the fact that they're not unionized bother you or something? I worked there when I was a kid, and while the job was lame, the company treated me very well - whatever....

    I happen to agree with you on Apple. I have an iPhone (which I love), and I agree that Apple has all the right in the world to lock out whatever features they want - but when they go so far as to limit the TOOLS you can use to develop for their hardware, as they're doing with adobe's flash conversion tool, they go WAY too far.

    As far as google goes, I'm torn. I absolutely love 50% (or more) of the products they create. Then I watch their hypocritical actions in search and their greedy money grabs in adwords and adsense and get disgusted.

    My approach now is to cast that net as far and as wide as I can, using any and every available medium (traditional and otherwise) my budget will allow to make sure my clients stay afloat no matter what happens.

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