Google Search Boycott: Brands, Agencies Buzz About Possibilities

Advertisers have yet to boycott Google Search services -- similar to the way they did its sister company, YouTube, in past years -- but that's not stopping agencies and platforms from considering the idea. An OpenX survey conducted by Harris Poll suggests the possibility.

Procter & Gamble in 2018 boycotted YouTube, Google’s video platform.

Earlier this year, Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G, threatened to pull advertising spend if platforms didn't take the appropriate actions to stop systemic racism and hate speech. Midway through the year, Unilever paused ads running on Facebook and Twitter.

With the U.S. Department of Justice and 11 states' attorneys general suing Google in federal court under the Sherman Act, some brands and platforms want to know if Google Search could endure a similar boycott similar to the one that Facebook and YouTube have experienced.



The lawsuit has potential ramifications for Google and advertisers. OpenX ran a survey of 502 U.S. marketers and 1,000 U.S. consumers from July 20 through June 29, and found that a significant percentage had participated to some extent in the boycotts against Facebook and YouTube. The study seems to lump Google in with YouTube. 

Of the 71% of marketers who currently spend ad dollars with Facebook, 26% of the survey respondents said they did pause or reduce their ad spend as part of a boycott on Google, and 34% did so on Facebook.

When asked how likely they are to consider a boycott, 26% said they would consider it for Google and 35% said they would consider a boycott for Facebook.

The choice of whether to spend is not likely to affect Google’s top-line revenue growth, especially near term. John Donahue, CEO of media consultancy WLxJS, which has worked with IMAX, Twitter, and Hearst, does not see a boycott in Google’s future for its Search advertising services.

“Brands will generally use their progressive agendas through media,” he said. “Some of our brands were a big part of walking away from the social platforms during the boycotts.”  

Donahue said he had to move dollars away from social platforms to find another that generated just as much performance, which “wasn’t easy to do.”

In this instance there is no consumer trust violation or brand toxicity being created.

It’s a politicized government administration launching a higher politicized lawsuit, he said, noting that a DOJ suite is a multiyear process and will not have a large-scale brand impact unless something comes out that violates consumer privacy and brand safety concerns.

“How the DOJ authored the lawsuit speaks to a nascent understanding of how Google works,” said Donahue.

“Google receives a tremendous amount of data and fidelity. The lawsuit discounts the fact Google understands purchase behavior for the majority of ecommerce-related brands where Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager is deployed.”

It also discounts the connection between consumers and content, he said. The auctions and how they work in advertising benefit from performance and cost when Google knows more about the user and its relationships.

Mark Ballard, analyst at agency Merkle, said most brands approach Google and Bing depending on the opportunity to reach consumers, and get a good return on investments in certain parts of the world based on specific market segments.

“Bing generates a certain amount of traffic in specific areas, and Google does, too,” Ballard said. “I don’t think that’s going to change because of recent events.”

Merkle released its Q3 2020 Digital Marketing Report on Tuesday. For paid search, Google's shopping ad spend grew 12% year-over-year (YoY) in the third quarter -- up from 7% in the second quarter. 

Google's search ad spend rose to 11% YoY, up from 9% in the second quarter. Microsoft's product ad-spending growth improved to 22%, up from 11% in the second quarter.

“For Google, Shopping is about 60% of their retail search ads clicks, and Microsoft it’s about 40%,” he said.

The pandemic also continues to have a major influences on marketers’ decision to spend what and where. eMarketer released data today that suggests total media ad spending worldwide will rebound to pre-pandemic levels next year and hit $691.50 billion. Strong growth in digital ad spending globally — 16.4% in 2021, more than double the 7.9% growth — will drive this trend.

All 37 ad markets that eMarketer tracks — with the exception of China — will post negative growth in media ad spend this year. China will have a “small but notable positive growth of 0.3%.” The U.S. will decline 4.1%.

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