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The Big Story: Unboxing Google’s Black Boxes

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When a black box generates results, do you really need to open it up?

Google’s Performance Max replaces human media planners with AI. In exchange for not knowing where their ads run, what the campaign creative looks like or how their campaigns perform, advertisers get a stunning ROAS.

But brands are discovering driverless campaigns can veer off the road. For example, Google has been known to place AI-generated creative within Gmail without a marketer knowing. One brand’s customers threatened to file GDPR complaints because they were convinced the brand was spamming them.

Marketers also suspect that Performance Max skews toward placements for which Google wants to drum up marketer demand (like within YouTube’s nascent “Shorts”) or where it can demonstrate easy results (like branded search).

Building off a deeply reported feature by James Hercher, we discuss marketer and agency complaints about Performance Max – although, just to be clear, advertisers are already addicted to its performance – and explore what happens when AI is applied to marketing.

Media moves

Digital media’s former darling, BuzzFeed, is now in danger of being delisted from the stock exchange and recently cut 12% of its staff, and it’s not alone. Other media organizations have also laid off staff or shut down in Q4. So, what gives?

Companies appear to be battening down the hatches, preparing for adverse economic conditions and a decrease in marketer spending. Or perhaps they’re following the lead of Big Tech players, which have collectively laid off tens of thousands of people this year.

But publishers and large tech platforms may experience the same issues in different ways. While signal loss threatens Big Tech, it could be a boon for independent publishers that have direct relationships with their readers. And video content works well when it’s free and user-generated, but it’s been an expensive, revenue-losing bet for many in digital media.

Media followers may have also noticed three ad-free hours last week.

Google Ad Manager experienced a global outage on December 8, its most significant in recent memory. But while publishers grumbled about their overreliance on Google (and are devising hacks to get around any future outages), many accepted the lapse in serve with magnanimity. It reminded them, paradoxically, of just how reliable Google’s platform normally is.

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