Commentary

Googlifying The World Of Media Planning And Buying

Over the last few days there's been a lot of buzz generated (again) by Google deciding to make a move and purchase DoubleClick. Every journalist and pundit has offered his or her take on this action, creating even more hoopla over a company that is already one of the biggest and most profitable companies in the U.S. What I find interesting, however, is that people are focusing their attention on the obvious rather than the repercussions of these various moves on our immediate industry: media planning and buying.

I've said it before and I will say it again: The agency model as it currently exists is doomed. What Google is doing, though not so silently, is beginning to close the casket door, but it's not closed yet and there are still a number of things that need to happen.

I predict the current agency model has about 10 years left in it. If you work in a big holding company and your agency generates the majority of its revenues from standard media planning and buying or creative development, it might be getting closer to the right time to start learning some new skills and getting involved in this wonderful world we call the Internet.

We all know the model is shifting from that of a content-centric model (where the networks and the publishers own the schedule for distributing content) to a consumer-centric model (where consumers can decide when, where and how they interact with media). We also understand that all media has a responsibility in today's plans, whether it is to introduce an idea or concept, engage the consumer in a discussion regarding that idea or concept, or remind you of the concept or idea. What Google is doing is beginning to lay the framework for how advertisers will purchase and place media in front of a consumer to achieve these varying responsibilities.

The implications for media professionals are on how we purchase each format within the accepted paradigms of "traditional" media and "online" media. I foresee a buying model that is based on 1 of 3 formats: 1) assertive media; 2) passive media; and 3) addressable media.

Assertive media is any format where the audience is specifically requesting a certain type of content. This type of media can be purchased on a self-service model or an account management model and has been perfected by Google in the form of AdWords and its cost-per-click pricing model. The model can also be applied to classifieds advertising, similar to what Craigslist does by creating a marketplace in which two parties interested in a transaction can interact with one another in a self-service model. This model applies to the folks we typically call "hand-raisers" and is extremely scalable. Google has utilized it in most of its core business, and is likely looking at applying the model to its print partnerships, possibly radio partnerships, or even in a self-selecting VOD-esque interface where all content is available on demand.

Passive media can be considered the traditional media, such as traditional broadcast television and radio. Google has partnerships with Echostar and DMarc, and the DMarc relationship provides a model for automating delivery, or even auctioning delivery, of radio ads that otherwise might have gone unsold. This can also be a self-serve sort of model, which works well in some cases in the online space. Companies like AdBrite offer this service online, so why can't Google make this work for offline companies? Why can't they offer this type of service across media that is broadcast to an audience, and apply the aforementioned self-selection model to on-demand content that is broadcast specifically at a request?

The third model is addressable media, or media where the audience may not have actually raised its hand -- but you no longer need to estimate who the audience is when you can identify them based on cookies and other relative data and information. Online advertising in general is addressable, and the purchase of DoubleClick means that Google now controls information far beyond what its audience was searching for and where they went after a search. I estimate that now the company can tell what as much as 80% of the Web is doing, even when they're not within two clicks of a Google search results page. Imagine the implications of applying this model for data and information to Echostar's business! Imagine the implications if Google were to merge, buy or partner with a cable provider like Comcast or Time Warner cable? There is a wealth of information available there, where any media planner can immediately target the correct audiences on actual numbers rather than estimates, which means Nielsen is effectively out of business.

If you're a media planner or buyer in today's marketplace, what's threatening to you is that Google is creating a model where all of this media can be purchased in one single location, on a performance or addressable basis, without estimates or needs for third-party verification, and it can provide a digital dashboard with real-time analytics and recommendations for optimization across all media formats. Google just made your role obsolete -- all with a paltry $3.1 billion purchase.

So... if you are sitting here reading these thoughts and wondering what to do, take solace in the fact that you have about eight to 10 years before you really need to move on. In the meantime, start getting very familiar with ad-serving and the companies that can offer these types of digital dashboards now. These are the kinds of companies that will be your greatest partners and your most valuable assets in the coming years. And, oh, be sure to be nice to your Google reps. It's a very small world and this industry is even smaller. If you get on their bad side now, you may regret it later on.

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