"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Jay Friedman, president and partner at Goodway Group.
Three government lawsuits have now been filed against Google in the span of two months with the two most recent being filed by states’ attorneys general this week. Slightly over-simplified, a summary of the claims are:
- Department of Justice: Google built a monopolistic search engine, which is now anti-competitive.
- Republican AGs-led suit: Google monopolized the buy and sell-side of the display and video online ad market and colluded with Facebook in the process.
- 38 states suit: Google monopolized search, and in the process pushed non-Google search results farther from the user to prioritize its own results.
We’ll focus here on what CMOs and CEOs should consider, and if any action should be taken as a result. As an important disclaimer, each of these lawsuits puts forth claims and alleges actions but the full facts are not out. Despite this, the court of public opinion and shareholders will start to demand answers assuming most of the claims are true. In this reality, what are CMOs and CEOs to do now?
Here are four areas of consideration.
Does Google perform?
Let’s say the claims are true that Google built preference into its auctions and inventory flow that advantaged its platform over the rest of the industry. The suit lays out ways Google allegedly advantaged itself in ways that would lead marketers to get superior results on Google. Purely considering performance, one option is for a CMO to say, “Then I might as well use Google as long as I can!” But for some, it won’t be so simple, and other consideration areas will need to be examined.
Can we trust what Google says about its performance?
Many organizations use DV360, SA360, and YouTube for media, and GA360 for measurement and attribution. Those numbers have been single sources of truth. But, if Google repeatedly told publishers, exchanges, and the market at large one thing, but was really doing something else, what else doesn’t a CMO or CEO know? Just like any relationship, if trust comes into question in one area, all areas must be scrutinized. The suit alleges marketers should have experienced significantly better performance while using the Google stack. Should campaign metrics reported by Google be questioned?
There certainly is no evidence that Google falsified metrics. However, in the depths of digital media metrics there are countless ways measurement can be “generous” one way or another. Most CMOs and CEOs are completely unaware of the complexity of deciding when an ad counts as “served.” There are still meaningful discrepancies between DSPs, exchanges, and publisher ad servers.
Does having all of these parties on one tech stack eliminate the mechanics that cause discrepancies? This is where we must lift our heads up. If the metrics you’re seeing in Google directionally align with your business results (i.e., campaign run to sell a widget says it sold more widgets, and you did in fact sell more widgets,) then you should trust the numbers you're seeing. Of course, that goes for any platform.
Is there really a choice to avoid Google?
No matter an organization’s stance on the validity of the lawsuit or claims, in no scenario do I believe it’s an option to discontinue working with Google altogether. Search is a must for any marketer with a video strategy, and it would be unwise to ignore YouTube. Site-side analytics software is deeply ingrained into most organizations, and so an organization using Google Analytics will likely be using Google Analytics for the foreseeable future. Even programmatically, the Google Display Network/AdX inventory makes up such a large percent of programmatic traffic that to avoid this inventory altogether would be on principle in spite of performance or pragmatism, not simply instead of.
Can you plan beyond the next quarter?
It’s clear now that state, federal and even international governments intend to “do something” about big tech. As marketers, we have to assume that five years from now, the major platforms we use today will look different as a result of government action. What we don’t know is, how different, and in what ways?
How much time should a brand or agency dedicate to learning alternative forms of targeting or even other platforms? As the changes come into effect, marketers have to decide on the trade-offs between productivity performance today and future-readiness. For organizations that live quarter to quarter, focusing on this quarter is probably the right way to go! For organizations that take a longer view and balance future-planning with current results, becoming familiar and proficient at all major platforms should be on every CMO’s to-do list.
One final ending thought: Anyone in America can sue anyone at any time, for anything. We owe it to ourselves to do our own research, probe companies that come under investigation, and get answers for ourselves. In my experience, it’s the brands that take a level-headed, evidence-based approach to all of their marketing that end up with the best long-term results.