Google’s “win-win and win” situation

eMarketer, Inc. recently released an estimate that Google is on pace to take the top spot in US display ad revenue in 2012.

This would earn Google its first digital advertising triple crown: leadership in US paid-search ads, mobile ads, and now display ads.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Advertising executives said the eMarketer estimates are something of a surprise given that Google is best known for its search ads.”

Not me — no surprise here. I oversee a digital ad budget and have seen the shift to Google mobile and display ads firsthand.

However, the news has made me think about why Google is outpacing its rivals.

Clearly Google has made large, well-known investments that are fundamental to its growth beyond search ads, such as the purchases of DoubleClick and YouTube and the creation of an ad network (enabling it to sell ads across a stable of third-party websites).

But from my experience there are also numerous things Google does at a practical level that are less headline grabbing but which are relevant to people who decide how to allocate digital ad budgets.

Google’s approach to video ads – a fast-growing segment of the display ad market – offers a great product-level example of many of these things, including:

1)   Easy to justify a test budget

While other video ad pitches were based on TV tradition, Google offered an alternative: ads that viewers can skip by choice and which advertisers only pay for when not skipped.

If I only have to pay when a viewer actually watches the ad, why not run a test campaign?

2)   Easy to advocate

The ‘no play means no pay’ model also makes it easier for digital ad managers to sell the relatively new concept of online video advertising to internal stakeholders.

“We only pay when someone chooses to watch our full 30-second ad” is a very convincing statement and allows the person saying it to speak confidently.

3)   Easy to implement

Campaigns are quickly initiated and implemented in the AdWords system, using the same log-in many advertisers already use for paid-search ads.

Google also offers a lot of ‘how to’ information – how to set up campaigns and define audience targets, etc. – including helpful tutorial videos.

4)   Easy to like the end-user experience

If users can select whether or not to watch your video ad, then those who view it are much more likely to do so in a positive and more receptive mindset.

Offering a better user experience is one-third of the user/advertiser/company “win-win-win” that Google first embraced when it introduced the notion of relevancy to paid-search ad rankings many years ago (as opposed to simply selling to the highest bidder).

Heaven help the yahoos

In my opinion it’s difficult to see how any competitor will slow Google’s growth in the major digital-ad categories.

The competitive advantages gained from owning and integrating ad technology’s murderers row – DoubleClick, YouTube, AdMob, etc. – are obvious.

It’s also obvious that the company is committed to, and invests heavily in, innovation.

And unlike many other examples in corporate history, there’s no sign that the access to resources and/or its past achievements engender complacency at Google.

In the case of video ads, YouTube is 20x larger than the world’s second largest video platform but that hasn’t stopped Google from offering innovative ad products and then continuing to tweak them for improvements (and recently increasing the number of format options from two to four).

Google’s competitors are, of course, beyond aware of these topics.

But in my experience as an ad buyer, there are important things Google does that its competition doesn’t fully grasp, such as how much better Google’s account teams are at partnering with large clients and selling new opportunities.

Nor this simple reality: how much easier Google makes it for me to give them more of my advertising money.

QR Codes, The Loneliest Of Creatures

QR code example in an American Express "Shop Small" window decal

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

The people who created you said you were hip.

 — “QR code? Cool!”

They said that strangers seeking information would turn to you; that they’d pull out expensive smartphones and take your picture.

—  “…they’ll just scan the QR code and, boom, it opens our website.”

— “Can it link to a video?”

— “Sure, great idea!”

— “Awesome!”

Your creators said you were beautiful and cutting-edge.

They said you deserved to be seen in prominent locations:  on colorful ads hanging in airport terminals; on decals in the windows of high-end stores; on posters adorning the walls of busy thoroughfares in our grandest cities.

They inflated you with purpose and self-worth, then sent you out into the world…

… the cold, cold world, where busy people on busy thoroughfares hustle right past you without slowing their step; where smartphone cameras abound –  they were right about that – just none pointed in your direction.

It’s said that the opposite of love isn’t hatred but indifference.

Poor, poor little QR code, you were set up to #fail.

 ++++++++++++

The author of a recent article on Tech Crunch shared an observation that has also struck me over the past couple years:  you see QR (Quick Response) Codes all over the place but never see anyone using them.

The author goes on to speculate that usage may increase if smartphone cameras were to more naturally scan QR Codes.

I’m skeptical, but perhaps easier scanning might yield more QR code usage in certain scenarios, such as:

  • Scanning a code yields an immediate and meaningful benefit, like getting a coupon for a product you’re just about to purchase
  • Someone sitting leisurely with a nearby mobile phone happens to come across a print ad for a product and/or offer that closely matches a current need (an infrequent situation to begin with)

However, one current QR Code usage that’s simply a losing proposition:  out-of-home (OOH) ads with QR codes that lead to more information about the product or service being advertised.

There is no shortage of such examples — you see them on posters, billboards, store-window decals, etc. This week I saw one on the side of a city bus.

QR codes in OOH brand-awareness creative represent wishful thinking that’s out of touch with actual consumer behavior.

No matter how simple the scanning technology, all the enthusiasm in the corporate world will not make people interrupt their activities —whether that may be walking to meet a friend, looking for a snack in the airport or paying a bill at a cash register—to learn more about your product.

QR Codes in OOH promotional material are a waste of space, design effort and whatever time is required to create the landing-page content.

Perhaps in the future QR code technology will evolve and become more commonly used in certain scenarios. But OOH creative? No way. This usage should – and probably will – go the way of Second Life meeting spaces and corporate podcasts.