Fast Forward: Poor Google

Poor Google. It's so misunderstood, especially on Madison Avenue. In fact, do a Google search for the terms "Google" and "Madison Avenue" on Google and see what happens. Your screen will be filled with stories about angst, and a fair amount of fear and loathing. No surprise there.

Many ad agencies and top marketers still don't know what to make of Google other than its expanding influence into their world. Google is the big media company that everyone loves to hate, except for those who love it. And the people who love it generally are the same people Madison Avenue wants to reach: consumers. And it is this fear that Google will somehow disintermediate the traditional role of advertising that has got them so anxious. They've even come up with a term to express their mixed emotions: frenemy.

The traditional advertising world's fear of Google is justified. But not for the reasons you might think. The real reason traditional advertisers and agencies have to worry about Google has less to do with its proprietary algorithm, its daunting marketing share, its humongous market cap, or even the billions of pages it indexes. The real reason to fear Google is that it simply does a better job of delivering what most people want from advertising: relevant information about stuff - including products, services and brands - when and where people actually want it. In fact, it reverses the historic push/pull relationship between consumers and brands. And for anyone relying on the old relationship, there is good cause to worry.

A while back, I wrote in these pages about the collision we're experiencing now between two very different marketing models: the old model based on the largesse of mass reach and low relevance of broad-based media like traditional TV and radio vs. the new model - interactive, one-to-one and highly relevant media like search, or behaviorally targeted online and addressable TV advertising buys. Most of you know who is winning that battle. While there will always be a need for some inefficient mass media advertising, the world is turning, and for another important reason that I'd like to discuss this month. Call it the new economics of information. In a world of glutted content, where information is ubiquitous and available at your fingertips, relevance beats scale. It does so because of something everyone is buzzing about on Madison Avenue, but seem to be making far more complicated than they need to: engagement. It's really pretty simple: Provide someone with relevant information, when and where they want it, and they will be engaged. Do the opposite, and you'll get the opposite effect. So there, I've saved the advertising world countless millions of dollars in consumer and advertising effectiveness research. Simply give people the information they want and they will reward you with their attention.

Google has understood this from the beginning, and it is why it now commands a two-thirds share of the online search marketplace, and why it could very well extend its presence into TV, radio and all other media that go digital and interactive - and ultimately, all other media will. So don't read Google's moves into TV, radio or print media as efforts to dominate the advertising business. Think of it as a way for Google to fulfill its core promise of helping people manage their information by making all media more relevant to them.

The thing I find most ironic about Google's success is that it is succeeding by employing the basic elements of good advertising, which define the pillars of any strong brand as its differentiation and relevance. Clearly, Google is relevant to most people, because they use it to search for what's most relevant to them. Google is differentiated, because it simply does that better than anyone else. And if I were in the business of providing those attributes to consumers on behalf of big marketers' brands, I'd be worried too.

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