Debating Whether or Not Google Can Change Advertising
Ari Rosenberg, a media buying consultant, had an interesting column last week about Google’s plans to enter the cable TV market, just the same as they’ve made inroads in the radio and print markets.
Google’s approach in all these markets is consistent. They will apply technology to open up the marketplace, removing the middleman and basically automating the purchase of media. Ari argues that while Google may understand technology, they have a lot to learn about how advertising works. This is a huge, complex question and there are a lot of different shades of gray to the argument. It’s not a simple yes or no argument. But there are some very interesting aspects, both pro and con, there he touches on in his column. So I’d like to present to differing viewpoints, both pro and con, about why or why not Google may actually change how advertising is done.
The Pro Side: Making the Marketplace More Efficient
There is no doubt that there’s a lot of room for efficiency in most media buying markets. There is a layer upon layer of friction in the marketplace, caused by entrenched consultants, reps and buyers and other "filler" between the ultimate buyer and seller. This is where Google can excel. Their theory is that they can remove the friction by using their technology to enable marketplaces where buyers and sellers can connect directly. More than this, they introduce the notion of relevancy. Ultimately, Google wants to achieve their end marketing goal of always showing the right ad to the right person at the right time. They would take the idea of keyword relevancy, pioneered so effectively on the Web, and apply it to other channels. Of course this depends on a more interactive version of print, radio, or cable than we currently see. But as all media converge, Google’s initial inroads into each of these channels will secure them a foothold at the time when relevancy starts to matter.
In this regard, Google is definitely dealing from two areas of strength. They understand technology and have been successful in developing clean, efficient interfaces to help streamline the flow of commerce. There is definitely a change that is needed in the media buying marketplace and Google has the engineering chops to clean it up dramatically. Also, they have a clear and deep understanding of consumer intent, expressed in the consumer’s own terms. And as it begins to matter more in advertising, Google is well-placed to make those consumer initiated connections happen.
The Con Side: Understanding Marketing
In last few years, I’ve had enough interaction with Google to understand that for them, marketing is considered a necessary evil. There’s a lot of "soft", undefinable aspects to marketing, that can’t be distilled into a simple, clean algorithm. This is thinking that is largely foreign to the Google frame of mind. Google loves mathematical simplicity and definition. Two plus two should always equal four. The question shouldn’t be up for debate. But marketing is not that simple, not that clean, not that black-and-white. There’s a lot of gray in marketing.
Ari makes the point that Google doesn’t understand advertising. This is largely right. Google is an engineering company. It exists to apply technology to solve problems. If you look at the makeup of the Google organization, their own marketing department is a small, under resourced afterthought. Because they didn’t need to use advertising, the philosophy is that really is not necessary for anyone. As Google steps into advertising, think of them as Mr. Spock, reluctantly doing a stint as a Madison Avenue ad exec (now that’s an idea for a sitcom).
The Wild Card: the Consumer
Ultimately, it’s not Google or Madison Avenue that will have the last word in this debate. It’s you and me and 6 billion (and counting) other consumers. There is an old world and the new world in marketing. And the former is rapidly giving way to the latter. The wild card in all this is the changing game of marketing. Sure, Google may not understand the "warm fuzzies" of marketing, those undefinable aspects of brand engagement, but what Google does understand is connecting users with what they’re looking for. And do we really need advertising that hits us at a visceral and an emotional level, when it’s exactly the advertising we’re looking for anyway? It doesn’t have to hammer us over the head with its message, because we’re openly receptive to that message, we’re seeking it. As Google moves into print, cable, and radio it may not be that their lack of understanding of the current reality of marketing that will hold them back for making it successful. It may be the fact that those channels just don’t lend themselves very well to this new idea of consumer empowerment. Consumer empowerment is expressed much more easily over the interactive platform of the Internet. The Internet is the next evolution of marketing. The question will be more if Google can make a significant inroad into these more traditional channels before the channels become integrated within interactive, Web driven platform. Or will there be just too much friction to overcome?