Commentary

Google Ad Planner Creates Significant Buzz

The Google Ad Planner announcement last week, timed to the annual ARF conference, got a tremendous amount of interest in the press. In fact, as an "industry quotable," I do not remember a story this year that has gotten as many calls. So the question is, what's all of the hullabaloo about?

As you may know, Google frees up employees to spend a day a week on "personal" projects which can benefit the "greater good." The company is also very willing to put products into beta and leave them there while they are vetted and improved, and while others do mashups of the product (Google Maps, still in beta but used by many, is a great example).

Many of those in the digital advertising trade press jumped on this as "doom and gloom" for researchers comScore, Nielsen NetRatings and even Quantcast's research offerings. I think it important to note that there is a significant different between putting information into the marketplace and providing research tools. Research tools for the advertising community need to have specific aspects: They are expected to be statistically reliable, they need to have a sample that is projectable to the universe they are measuring (or offer a census of all users) and they need to have been vetted by the industry as relevant to the task at hand (an MRC audit is always a good idea).

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There are also a number of functions that an agency would expect from a research vendor that are lacking here. Some include deeper demographics and sociographics/product usage information (such as AIM or @plan), cross site duplication for reach and frequency, and full disclosure on methodologies.

What Ad Planner IS, is a front end to buying graphical ads from Google and for buying the long tail. But it is not even the first at providing this functionality. Lots of information about buying long tail exists via Quantcast and its research offerings. And with Quantcast you get full disclosure on methodologies. For buyers who want to self-select their network based on demographics, they could use a tool like Ad Bid Central to accomplish much the same. Interesting that there has been no big story about Ad Bid Central -- but then it is not Google.

This tool, much like Google Analytics, is a front end for buying for those who do not have the budget or connections for more sophisticated alternatives. Google Analytics is a fine product, but it did not put Omniture out of business. In fact, according to analysts at ThinkPanmure, Omniture has some 2,000 more customers than when Google bought Urchin and released Google Analytics, even though many said at the time it would put Omniture and its competitors out of business. We believe that Ad Planner will appeal to much the same target as Google Analytics: the very small agencies and companies who handle their own advertising.

Agencies can get much the same solution through networks. The networks have been selling the long tail for a long time. And as they, in the future, include data from sources like Quantcast, which already measures tens of thousands of long-tail sites, the ability of the networks to sell targeted impressions will only improve. Also, agency heads like Sarah Fay of Aegis (Carat) have already gone on record as not wanting to buy from the same people her company gets its data from.

Then there's the discussion of free. Somehow the trade press does not understand that everything has a price to it. Sure, access to the Google tool is free. But there's more to it than the actual cost of the resource -- there's the cost of staff time spent evaluating a resource for consideration. And agencies can go to the networks and get them to do the hard work of coming up with appropriate sites, in effect outsourcing the work they'd have to do with Ad Planner.

Now don't get me wrong. We like Google a lot, spend a lot of money through them and we think that Google Ad Planner is potentially a fine tool. The emphasis, though, is on potential, as there are many unanswered questions.

But the reality is that there is a long-tail marketplace in digital, and the Google Ad Planner can fit this need in helping the long0tail customer better understand graphical advertising options. This could well be the tool which migrates Google's very large small-customer base from search into graphical ads. And the big agencies will check it out. But we don't see them using it instead of comScore or NetRatings as research and planning tools. And as the Google Ad Planner sample appears to be limited to Google customers at this point, it will not be competitive with the exhaustive methodology of Quantcast.

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