Google, the Internet behemoth, is swallowing up a critical piece of the online advertising infrastructure — after devouring YouTube. Not only does it want to control the Web’s access points to content, it also wants to assert its control behind the scenes with the DoubleClick acquisition.
Microsoft is crying monopoly (that’s a new peak in irony), and most articles and points of view I’ve seen predict gloom, doom, and control.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t relish the thought of being beholden to a single organization for my livelihood and success. After all, DART does have a hold on over 70 percent of the ad-serving marketing, according to a March 2007 CIMA/William Blair study. Also on the paranoia side of the equation: the data Google and DART collectively have on the population at large are already rather Big Brotherish, never mind Google extending its cookies’ reach onto DART’s network of sites. (DART for Publishers powers ad serving for many of the top Web properties.)
Is this acquisition all bad for online advertisers and marketers? Well, was Google’s acquisition of Urchin (now Google Analytics) a bad thing for marketers? Google made it free, linking it into its API (define) so we could actually bring PPC (define) spending data and conversion data together into one dashboard. On top of that, it now lets you use the software to track the rest of your online campaigns. Free!
Is this a bad thing for advertisers? I think not. It’s bad for Web analytic companies like WebTrends, Omniture, and NetTracker, but it’s certainly not bad for the majority of marketers.
What, then, are the pros and cons of the DoubleClick acquisition for marketers and media people? Below, some possible scenarios people may not yet have though of.
On the con side, what could stifle competition and cause harm?
Google’s dominance and penetration with advertisers could stifle other competitors in the space, like AtlasDMT and MediaPlex, eventually limiting competition and choice in ad serving and tracking. (This appears to be the marketplace’s main concern.)
Google could jack up the price and force publishers to charge advertisers higher CPMs (define). Through its ad serving, Google will get a cut from much of the existing online advertising serving, making it even richer and more powerful (this will come from both the advertiser and publisher sides).
Google AdSense image ads could be linked into DART for Publishers. A huge premium PPC network would be instantly created. It could drive up the CPC (define) charged by ValueClick and other PPC networks. (I list this as a positive below, as it could offer even greater CPC opportunities for banner ads. We love CPC banner ads.)
Because Google owns Gmail and has an incredible amount of data on its registered users, the whole misguided cookie/privacy debate could reignite. As a result, more people will erase or disable cookies, and security compliance on advertiser sites could get even tighter. This could spawn tracking hurdles that prevent us from doing our jobs.
Finally (and I may be stretching my imagination here), because Microsoft lost the battle to buy DoubleClick, the company could create browser settings that make tracking with conventional cookies even harder, even possibly reliant on “security” features that are compatible with future tracking and serving platforms it develops.
But what of the possible benefits of the acquisition?
All your serving and online marketing results data, including paid search, banners, e-mail, rich media, video, natural search traffic, and site analytics could be consolidated into a single tracking, reporting, and dashboard application with no timely and expensive data integration technologies or activities.
Although the price of this platform may be high, the time and money saved by not needing all those separate data sources integrated on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis could be immense.
Cross-program tracking will allow marketers to break out of silo-based optimization and find the right combination of search, online media, video, and site content. We’ll literally be able to optimize across all channels and generate more ROI (define) from our programs.
Google’s brainpower will combine with DoubleClick’s. Some pretty incredible technologies may emerge.
Image ads (banners you can run on Google’s AdSense Network) could be linked to DART for Publishers. A huge PPC network could instantly be created, offering even greater banner ad CPC opportunities. (Yes, I list this as a bad thing, too. It could drive up the CPC charged by ValueClick and other networks as they struggle to compete for inventory.)
If all the online tracking data sources are integrated by Google, marketers can track the effect of offline marketing and advertising, PR, seasonality, and other offline factors much more accurately and quickly. We’ll get the integration benefits of online and offline campaigns that much faster.
Ultimately, the jury’s out on whether this acquisition will be a good or bad thing for marketers. Google could lock the competition out of its platform or drive them out of business by offering lower prices, wielding its financial might to defend or fund its actions, dominate the online ad world, and raise prices to just below the breaking point of what advertisers and publishers can afford. It could also amass and exploit a huge amount of data on the world’s online consumers and use it to profile and segment us down to attributes that constitute the very essence of what makes us individuals.
Yet, look at Google’s history of supplying online marketers and advertisers with tools and products work. It’s intention is more likely to integrate all its assets into a unified marketing solution with global reach that efficiently delivers a high ROI for its customers and profits for itself.
Providing the market with high-quality advertising products that create success is ultimately what’s in Google’s best interest and what got it to where it is today. If what it does in the future is at the expense of paying customers, it will stifle its growth and open the door to competition.