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Buying Attribution: Google, AOL Acquisitions Raise Flags On Media Neutrality


GoogleAOLFollowing Google and AOL’s acquisitions of multitouch attribution vendors Adometry and Convertro Tuesday, several questions arose.

The first, and perhaps easiest to answer: What was the driving force for the purchasers and how will the technologies plug into their existing platforms?

“The macro rationale for both of the acquisitions seems to be the growing need for justifying media spend and ROI across multiple channels,” commented Vik Kathuria, global chief media officer at Razorfish. “This ties directly into the need for efficiency to make limited marketing dollars work harder and minimize waste. The acquisition solves the ever-growing fraud issue, especially [in the case of] Adometry.”

The second question is around media neutrality. Will marketers feel they are getting a clear view of how their ads are performing cross-platform if their attribution tool is now media-owned?

“I think it’s going to be a huge challenge for Google to say, ‘We now have a comprehensive attribution platform and we can show you offline/online performance and this is an indication we’re opening up our ecosystem,’” remarked Tina Moffett, research analyst and an author of the Forrester Wave Report for Attribution Vendors. “That will still be a hard sell to [prospective] Google clients.”

In the case of AOL, although Convertro’s advanced algorithms will be rolled out to platform ONE by AOL, Adap.tv, and the AdLearn Open Platform (as well as sold as a standalone) in terms of scope, “the problem, at the end of the day is, [prospective clients could still say,] ‘that’s great, you have an advanced measurement algorithm, but I buy my media from you.’”

Razorfish’s Kathuria likewise sees “a bit of an objectivity issue given publishers owning these solutions will probably be biased toward the efficacy of their inventory.”

Despite how it looks, though, this is a significant step in the analytics and measurement space. Major media companies’ moves to acquire multitouch attribution companies (and engineering talent) indicates an acknowledgment that there remain deficiencies in understanding the complexities around measuring the ROI of media both on and offline, and acting on it, Moffett noted.

Additionally, “it was about acquiring a white-glove type service organization that can help clients implement and make sense of those [cross-channel] insights.”

This leads in to another lingering question – the role of the agency, which has historically been responsible for measuring much of an advertisers’ cross-channel mix, now that the media companies themselves are bringing the tools in-house.

“I think from the agency perspective, there certainly is a little bit of a church and state issue in that we work with media companies and we see from clients question marks around, ‘Does this mean AOL now has a view into all of my activity?’” said Adam Gitlin, global managing director of the data group for agency Omnicom’s data management division Annalect.


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But publishers recognize that, or should.

“AOL knows that we’re going to look at that, with our clients – the activity on Convertro,” Gitlin said. “ That doesn’t mean it’ll prevent us from working with Convertro as a discreet solution. Will we see a massive ‘jumping ship’ off Convertro and Adometry as a result? Definitely not.”

However, Gitlin does foresee a reevaluation of how marketers think about defining their data and the variety of parties that touch it in some form. “It will force marketers to rethink what is really important from their campaigns and where they draw lines around it.”


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