Commentary

Google, DMarc And Steamrolling The Bumpy Road To Traditional Media Dominance

  • by February 15, 2007

The news last week that the founders of dMarc had stepped down only a year after their acquisition by Google was a surprise to many, but not to radio insiders who could smell the culture clash a mile away. According to reports, the dMarc management team was disappointed in Google's lack of commitment to apply resources against the distribution side of the business model, which stifled footprint and ad sales growth. Like their pure-play Internet initiatives, Google felt the product should do the talking, and that "feet on the street" should not be necessary.

Although it is too early to determine whose viewpoint will ultimately be vindicated, this does exemplify the genuine, ingrained and significant differences between how "traditional media" is sold (and likes to be sold to) versus how the digital ad market leaders of today want to do business.

The purchase of d-Marc should have provided Google not only with a solid technology platform, but with some real insight into the workings of traditional media. No matter how antiquated and in need of updating those processes may be, the lessons learned should have been invaluable as Google attempts to broaden its horizons and take its growth to the next stage.

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As I mentioned in my commentary last fall, "The Google Revolution is Knocking: Should Radio Let it In?", Google's expectation to dominate an industry "built on deep personal legacies, relationships on both sides of the aisle (salesmen and agencies), and an ingrained infrastructure of people that need to keep paying their kids' tuition bills" in the same time they have the online space, is unrealistic without extracting huge casualties on both sides. And, fighting this battle on multiple fronts may prove increasingly costly.

Google's newspaper print ad project has had questionable results, and its relationships with television broadcasters are becoming increasing strained, in the wake of both NBC Universal and Viacom saying "enough is enough" to Google's YouTube. Could both of these tangle-ups be the reasons why Google is gun-shy on investing more financial / human resources in the dMarc project? Or was it just Google's unwavering commitment to steamrolling inefficient models at all costs that kept them from budging on the nuances needed to deal with traditional media markets?

It seems like the key to avoiding continued wrong turns will be convincing media that the "frienemies" concept has legs and that there is real, long-lasting value in partnership. Anyone who has been around a newspaper, television or radio station knows that the way to an operator's heart is through his pocketbook, but certainly not with the threat of "work with me or we will roll over you" (especially not via an email).

The steamroller isn't the only solution to smoothing the road to a meaningful traditional media play for Google. Here are some other thoughts on how the journey could be made less bumpy:

  • I know it's tough, but maybe try, just a little bit, to assimilate into the "local culture." Yes, it's all about reducing overhead and adding transparency in the ad buying process, but you can't expect to do that overnight. Sometimes pulling off the Band-Aid a bit at a time is a better solution for a sensitive kid.

  • Make partnerships a real win for both sides. Stealing someone's wallet and handing them a five-spot back is not considered a "feel good" business transaction. Traditional media is looking for ways to build a future business, not just survive. Helping to do this can create a partner for life.

  • Acknowledge and respect the core content asset. There is a reason that an ad on the Super Bowl or in the front section of The New York Times is worth more than a text link on Joe's Sports Blog.com. Google regularly states that it isn't in the content business. Newspapers, radio and TV broadcasters are. Treating content ownership lightly (scanning published works, streaming copyrighted clips) is a sure way to turn off the people whose livelihoods are built around it. Showing some real efforts to change this perspective will go far. Ads can't exist without content.

    Google's massive reach, investment capital, infrastructure and brain power have the potential to make real, positive change for advertisers, help distribute content to an even greater audience and create real opportunities for traditional media to thrive down the road.

    What is up in the air is whether Google will be driving a steamroller to make it happen -- or getting directions from partners who know how to clear the road ahead.

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