Google’s $100Mn deal with Publicis Groupe raises big questions for the media industry

Following the deal in October with MediaVest, Publicis Omnicom Groupe is doubling down on its bet on digital with the largest upfront media buy that Google has agreed to date. However, as the insightful comments on this article from AdAge point out, Google’s latest $100 Million deal with POG agencies DigitasLBi and Razorfish raises big questions for the media industry.

The first is around agency transparency and the fair treatment of its client base irrespective of the size and significance to the agencies (or holding groups) concerned. This has long been an issue with traditional media but digital has always maintained a ‘whiter than white’ image due to the supposedly fair, algorithm-led purchasing models involved. Now all sorts of questions will legitimately start to be levied at agencies and media owners running digital campaigns:

  • “Who owns the inventory (i.e. who’s the seller/buyer) before it reaches the client?
  • How is premium/non-premium inventory allocated between operating agencies (within the same holding group), and then amongst an agency’s client portfolio?
  • What and who determines individual clients’ CPMs, or any other trading currency?
  • Are client-agency contracts allowing for brokering (even if it has existed for all media, including TV for many years)?
  • Are the additional benefits from brokering transferred to clients?” *

It also highlights that, despite the much touted level-playing field resulting from the rise of programmatic digital media buying, agency size still matters. As another commenter mentions, this heralds a new era of digital media industry acquisitions fuelled by the need to own customer data:

“Content is no longer king. Data is both king and queen. The holding companies will buy it as they see fit (because they can), work these assets to their advantage and leverage the information in any way they choose.” **

However, the elephant in the room is still search advertising. It is highly significant that this deal does not include search – perhaps because it can’t? As the article points out, Google is dominant here and the battle is between facebook and Yahoo over digital display. Surely, if it could, Google would want to use its position in search for added leverage in these deals?

The fact is, though, buying search is constrained by being centred around keyword bidding rather than customer data which is the starting point for buying display (both on and offline, especially TV) and the focus of every major player in the digital marketing space especially Google arch rival Adobe. It is ironic that Google’s ground-breaking ‘pay-per-click’ model of buying search eyeballs which allowed them to make billions at the expense of display is now halting its ambitions to access the far bigger budgets being planned across the integrated media landscape.

Google knows that search has to become more buyer-friendly if it is to be of benefit to the company as an asset in major upfront digital media buys with agencies which increasingly look to be the way of the future. Enhanced search campaigns, introduced earlier this year, were a hint that Google might leave behind the cumbersome and labour-intensive keyword bidding process. However, to align search with digital media buying (and budgets), they will have to go the whole way soon and make search buying a primarily user-centric process allied to client data management and programmatic CRM rules leaving keyword bids as merely one of many campaign optimisation tweaks.

With that last move (happening in 2014 I bet), search will finally grow up and take its place as part of the mainstream marketing mix.

* Quoted from Morten Pedersen’s comment on the linked AdAge article

** Quoted from James Levin’s comment on the linked AdAge article