DoubleClick and Google, Part 2: The Reality

The reality of the Google/DoubleClick deal and the vision behind it may not match up.

The combined entity of DoubleClick and Google as a company, including Performics, DART for Advertisers (DFA), DART for Publishers (DFP), and the newly formed Ad Exchange, requires media buyers, advertisers, and their agencies to digest a lot of new information. This column examines some of the challenges the combined entity will face. It may make exploiting all the possible synergies more difficult.

Some potential conflict of interest issues affect other agencies and search marketers, while other issues must be resolved in respect to advertiser/publisher conflicts (perceived or real). I’ll delve into more detail on each issue and flush out concerns agencies, search marketers, and advertisers have shared with me.

Loss of DFA as a True Third-Party Ad Server

Most marketers and agencies have already given up on the idea of an advertiser ad server owned by a company without agency, ad network, or publishing entities. AQuantive owns Atlas, the other large graphical ad server used by mainstream agencies and advertisers. AQuantive also has a behavioral targeting network arm called DRIVEpm, which essentially puts aQuantive in the ad-network business. Yet for most DRIVEpm clients, the percentage of media routed through that network is small in compared to overall budget. As Google grows and signs more media deals, it’s likely the Google network of properties will represent an ever-growing percentage of marketers’ online (and offline) spend.

The additional irony is Google has refused to allow any third-party ad serving within its AdSense network. Should it combine the DoubleClick publisher network with the AdSense network, one wonders if DFA, now part of Google, would be the one former third-party ad server allowed to serve ads within the network.

In a “Wall Street Journal” (WSJ) article last week, Google claimed impression and conversion data collected by DFA or its Performics division wouldn’t be made available to Google. According to WSJ, “Google would not be able to match its search data to the data collected by DoubleClick, as DoubleClick does not have the right to use its clients’ data for such purposes.” I’ve been unable to confirm this statement, but it would seem one of the reasons the DoubleClick deal was so enticing to Google was access to cross-customer conversion data. Google, of course, has alternative sources for this data, including third-party audience measurement organizations such as comScore, Nielsen, Compete, Quantcast, and others.

Will Performics Pitch Against You to Manage Media Spend?

Certainly, many SEM (define) agencies and even larger interactive agencies (many now owned by the mega-agency holding companies WPP, IPG, Publicis, and Omnicom) are concerned Google may give Performics preferential treatment in regards to new features, functions, media opportunities, and API (define) pricing.

Similarly, Performics clients have expressed to me (and are unwilling to be quoted by name) that they worry Performics will allocate additional budget to Google media opportunities when given the choice of allocating incremental budget to a basket of media opportunities. “I can say that I would be very nervous about using them while they were owned by Google,” one former Performics client said. “For example, in many SEM campaigns Yahoo Search outperformed Google, and we shifted dollars to Yahoo. Performics was agnostic to which search engine we used. While I’m certain their ethics and business practices are fully transparent, I can see shades of subjectivity creeping into the picture.”

The same advertiser expressed the competing network’s concerns, stating, “Performics staff would need to have access into Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo search accounts to perform optimization duties. I wonder how Yahoo or Microsoft would feel about Google staffers having direct access into their core business products. I’m sure Google will find a way to make this work, but some kind of change will be necessary.”

My take on the publisher issue also includes some interesting legal ramifications. All search marketers who access the search engine APIs (including my firm) have strict confidentiality clauses in place. It will be interesting to see how Google plans to protect Yahoo’s and Microsoft’s interests, both of whom presumably have such API relationships with Performics.

Concerns of Google Buying Loyalty

Will other publishers be undersupported within DoubleClick products in comparison to Google’s partner publishers? Will Google give away publisher or advertiser ad serving, essentially buying loyalty from organizations that may have concerns about conflicts?

Cookie deletion, particularly third-party cookie deletion, is a huge concern in the entire interactive advertising industry. The Google Pack software partner programs may suddenly treat DoubleClick cookies less harshly than those from other tracking services. The industry should, of course, be preaching cookies’ value for relevant ad targeting and alerting consumers to the fact most cookie-cleaning programs don’t disclose that cookie removal results in seeing less relevant advertising.

One reason completion of the deal is expected to take the remainder of the year may be that many of the above issues must be resolved to the satisfaction of advertisers, publishers, agencies, and possibly even government regulators. The idea of the DoubleClick Ad Exchange creating an ad network that provides even more API-level control is exciting. It’s a shame so many other, tertiary issues are linked to the deal. Time will tell how it will all shake out.

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