Commentary

Is Advertising's Future 100% Google?

I am at OMMA this week. If you're not here, and your profession revolves around media and marketing, might I suggest you reserve for OMMA East now. There is some great dialogue around the future of online media and online media's place at the table with traditional media. The best conversations, in my opinion, are around the evolution of branding online and advertiser's need for distribution/access to social media. I am sure the MediaPost writers will do a great job recreating the dialogue, but much like the future of advertising, the content is most effective when it is consumed as a two-way conversation. For my part, I wanted to give a preview of what I will be arguing on my panel "Is the Future of advertising 100% Google?" I am sure there will be some great updates once the panelists have had a chance to debate.

First I would like to say that I was somewhat reluctant to take the "no" side of the panel. It's tough to argue against a company that has so quickly and effectively changed the face of advertising. With its access to so many resources, you begin to think its success is a foregone conclusion. The challenge is, you have to define what we mean by "100% Google." If what is being proposed is, will Google be the end-to-end solution for all of advertising, I think it's actually pretty easy to argue against. But if we are asking if Google could potentially become the most efficient and effective system through which all advertising opportunities are bought and served, than you have a more interesting debate.

There is no doubt that Google's awe-inspiring success in the search and performance advertising market is one convincing argument for an "all-things-Google" future. But is Google really taking the steps necessary to replicate its rapid dominance of the search and direct response advertising markets? Google was first a search company, with a mission to organize the world's information. It was while trying to solve an issue that faced consumers of information online, and only after solving search better than their predecessors, that Google built the better mouse trap for advertising. It's hard to see the parallel in other media. For example, if Google was building a better interface through which we could organize and consume television, if they successfully solved that problem for consumers, then I would say it would be the likely lock to dominate the buying and serving of advertising through the medium, repeating its past success.

Next, it's true that Google's current technology provides a huge competitive advantage for capturing market share of the type of advertising it was designed to serve. However, no one has proven yet that this is an advantage in serving the needs of other types of media. Wal-Mart innovated retail operations as the world had never seen. It quickly dominated the category of retail it targeted, and (relatively quickly) became one of the largest companies in the world. But no one is asking if Wal-Mart is going to put higher-end retailers out of business. That's because higher-end retailing is an entirely different business, one that doesn't fit neatly into Wal-Mart's current operations (I know the parallel isn't perfect, but it serves to demonstrate the point). In the end, it may be harder for the larger players -- not just Google -- to adapt operational thinking and technologies than it would be to start from scratch to address the unique issues facing various media.

Finally, there is the question of whether the entire process of brand advertising is meant to be automated. The issue is automating the immeasurable. I think everyone would agree that there needs to be some level of automation at various points in the value chain to increase efficiencies and address challenges of new media. But brand advertising and the content in which brand advertising belongs is a demonstration of human interaction. The challenge is to look at the traditional process for brand advertising and find every place where it is possible to add automation to the business process -- while still incorporating and accounting for the necessary element of human interaction (re: creativity).

Having said all this, I wouldn't bet against Google. It could always buy a TiVo and get to work on solving the problem of organizing and making accessible the world's entertainment (or radio, or outdoor, or social media). It could acquire an upstart technology that has the type of unique DNA tailored to solve brand advertising's issues and supercharge it with its resources, a la Applied Semantics becoming AdSense. Google could do a lot of things, because it has a lot of money and some of the smartest people in the world -- but so does Microsoft and Yahoo and IPG and Publicis and...

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