I started by evaluating four would-be Google killers and determining that none of them were likely to prevent Google from reaching its goal of world domination... er, marketing supremacy.
Then I looked at three more contenders and landed on just one of them (the government) as having a chance at slowing the Google global ad machine.
Now let's turn our focus to three more potential Google killers and see if they have what it takes to derail the Big G.
To reiterate, my focus here is not on newfangled search engines. Google's global search share isn't in jeopardy nor is its search ad revenue -- despite what comScore might say next. Rather, the true Google killers are companies, individuals, and institutions that stand in the way of Google and the $500 billion pot of gold at the end of the global ad rainbow.
It's clear that mobile is quickly emerging as a key marketer-consumer touchpoint. As devices like the iPhone make the mobile Web experience more intuitive and innovative products like those covered by David Berkowitz in recentcolumns harness the immediacy of mobile to create shortcuts for users, it might not be long before the handset usurps the computer as the search/discovery engine of choice.
As it stands, the wireless carriers in the U.S. wield incredible power when it comes to controlling how consumers navigate the mobile Web. I haven't come across any updated stats but eighteen months ago I learned that 80% of all U.S. mobile Web activity takes place on-deck (inside the carriers' walled garden of content) whereas internationally 80% of activity occurs off-deck.
Remember, we're looking at the global ad market here. Besides, carriers in the U.S. won't be able to maintain their death-grip on the mobile Web experience for long. Google has already proven it can force the issue -- for evidence, look no further than its "victory" in the FCC 700 MHz spectrum auction.
And there's even evidence that telecoms are starting to play nicely with Google -- AT&T and T-Mobile are rumored to be warming to its Android platform. Finally, despite the incredible growth forecasted for mobile ad revenue -- over $1 billion in 2008 and $7.6 billion in 2013 -- it's still a drop in the $500 billion global ad bucket.
2. Madison Avenue
Historically, the path to marketers' purse strings has run through Madison Avenue.
Depending on whom you ask, traditional ad agency execs will tell you Google is anything from a great partner to a huge threat; a blip on the radar to a game-changer; and even all-of-the-above. Perhaps Martin Sorrell said it best when he used the term "frenemy."
This divergent sentiment has pervaded the trade press for some time, with conjecture ranging from Jim Meskauskus' reassuring 3 reasons for agencies not to fear Google to Dave Pasternack's conspiratorial look inside the Google/Publicis deal to my ruminations over whether we have more to fear than fear itself.
While I firmly believe that Google will not replace agencies in the marketing ecosystem, it sometimes seems like Google has leapfrogged them as the consigliere of choice for marketers. I'm amazed sometimes at how Google is able to get meetings with CMOs that even their agency of record can't get.
With that in mind, while it may take Google more time -- and better agency product and service solutions -- for it to get Mad Ave to shed the "nemy" from its moniker, Google no longer has to worry about agencies standing in the way of an increasing share of marketer's ad budgets.
3. NBC Universal
Now here's a company that appears to have all the right assets to succeed in the media landscape of tomorrow....
NBC TV network, Telemundo, Bravo, USA Network, SciFi, Sundance Channel, iVillage, Hulu, Universal Pictures, Focus Features, Universal Theme Parks, etc. etc.
This diversified portfolio incorporates media outlets as well as production firms, allowing NBCU to create and syndicate content across TV, the Web and the silver screen. And importantly, through Hulu, NBCU has proven that it can deliver distribution beyond its own properties.
As products like Apple TV bring the promise of convergence closer to fruition, NBCU is seemingly poised to capitalize with integrated marketing opportunities. And if its recently created Digital Studio is any indication, NBCU isn't wasting any time to activate emerging platforms.
While all these assets are nice to have and NBCU will continue to deliver strong results for marketers and GE shareholders, two key things are missing before it can effectively scale in the context of the $500 global ad marketplace.
The first is a lack of infrastructure tying all these assets together in a meaningful way -- and, by meaningful, I mean one single interface/dashboard to manage inventory from these various properties and slice across them contextually and behaviorally. Google started with that system at its core and is plugging its other media endeavors in accordingly. NBCU would need to back into (or buy) such a system -- and technology development is just not in its DNA.
The second missing ingredient is the long tail of content required to successfully aggregate enough eyeballs to deliver scalable consumer profiles and targeting selects that will interest Google's one million-plus advertisers. NBCU has grown quite the big head (still working with the long-tail metaphor here) but the doors to the global ad kingdom are being battered open by the tail.
Let's call it a day and let other potential killers remain below the radar for now. I'll pick it back up here in two weeks. Until then, maybe you can read my mind and figure out what killers I'm homing in on.