Brand Advertisers Bash Google’s Ad Serving Policies

Many of Google’s moves in 2006 were aimed squarely at brand advertising budgets. Its steady expansion into radio and print, its acquisition of YouTube , its new display and video ad formats , and the move to its opulent offices in Manhattan were all undertaken with Madison Avenue’s deep pockets in mind.

But many big brands and their agencies are resisting these efforts, and for a simple reason: Google insists on trafficking and reporting all the ads itself.

“If I’ve got a brand campaign and a tenth of the campaign is running through Google, in my mind it takes away the advertising efficiencies,” said Jeff Marshall, managing director and VP of media agency Starcom IP.

Marketers complain that Google won’t allow them to deliver ads using third party management firms such as DoubleClick and Atlas. These platforms and others like them have helped consolidate serving and reporting for display campaigns that can run on hundreds of individual sites.

“One thing we’re looking for as an agency is how do we get it all to a common denominator so we can concentrate on…strategies,” said Andreas Roell, president and CEO of agency Geary Interactive. “Google doesn’t allow us to [use] well established technologies.”

As a result, he said, using Google for brand campaigns results is a waste of time and energy. “Google has built this closed loop world, which I think is only a short term prospect for them,” he said. “They need to open it up.”

Ad management means different things to traditional advertisers and search marketers. Traditional media planners tend to cast a far wider net than keyword bidders operating in the relatively cozy land of search, where four companies control the vast majority of ad inventory.

Today, Google commands roughly 60 percent of U.S. searches and can therefore insist marketers use its proprietary campaign management dashboard. And marketers by and large adore it. On the other hand, for inventory in its AdSense network, the search wunderkind faces a long uphill battle if it really hopes to achieve a comparable marketshare, especially when competing ad networks like, ValueClick and Blue Lithium are all too willing allow third party trafficking and reporting.

And that simple, rather mundane fact is costing Google money.

“We can’t use their networks if they don’t allow third party serving,” said Andrew O’Dell, president of interactive marketing at AKQA. “It’s not worth trying to maintain a separate universe. We’re not going to do a buy that’s got 95 percent of our inventory running on an ad server and the other 5 percent sitting there as an outlier.”

O’Dell said he likes many of the features available through Google’s network, and AKQA has even tested campaigns there, but without third party serving, he said, “It’s just not going to be part of ongoing plans for us.”

“I’m a big fan of search,” he added. “But it’s easy to spend millions of dollars in networks. I think I could increase my Google spend in total [by a factor of two] if their network was competitive.”

Other agencies voiced a similar sentiment. “We’d love to have them [as partners for branding campaigns],” said David Smith, CEO of media agency MediaSmith. “But they’re going to have to listen to what the agency wants, not what they’re trying to sell.”

Overall, as it dives into the big pond of brand advertising, agencies say Google has yet to fully appreciate that, here at least, the company is still a small fish — and one that needs a few cultural lessons before it can be taken seriously.

“From an ad management standpoint, they’ve grown up with a CPA model,” said Geary Interactive’s Roell. “We’re not talking direct marketing. We’re talking branding — language that has to be learned.”

Google, when asked for comment, issued a statement acknowledging the issue while affirming its position:

“Google believes in providing users, advertisers and publishers with the best possible advertising experience while maintaining user privacy and ad quality,” the statement said. “In order to manage this experience effectively, Google serves all ads that run on and the Google content and search advertising networks. We allow for third-party click-tracking, but not serving at this time.”

That final “at this time” leaves the door open to change. Indeed, most agencies ClickZ spoke with for this story say Google is well aware of their complaints with regard to ad serving, and they believe, given time, the company will allow third parties in.

“In Google’s defense, they’ve come out of this ‘world domination’ approach, where they’ve had success,” said Roell. “Google is making a really good attempt at reaching out to agencies.”

“Google has to crawl before they walk,” said Starcom IP’s Marshall. “They want to start off in more of a contained fashion. They typically open those doors over time. They realize they’re hampering their ability to scale.”

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