When Google last year announced a newly revamped system for running display ads on websites, one gaping hole remained: DoubleClick, Google’s display-ad system, didn’t integrate social media marketing, so ads and other marketing on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter had to be managed separately.
Since then, another hole has appeared: so-called native advertisements. These are the au courant (if murkily defined) ads such as Facebook’s sponsored stories and Twitter’s promoted tweets that are intended to mesh with a site’s content more smoothly, especially on mobile screens with little room for standard banner ads. DoubleClick doesn’t allow advertisers to automate or track them either.
Today at its annual think DoubleClick customer and partner meeting (watchable on livestream through the video window above starting at 9 a.m. Pacific), Google is announcing its first steps toward filling those holes. It’s starting with a couple of announcements, plus a lot of promises, aimed at making social and native ads a more integrated part of that DoubleClick Digital Marketing platform that it debuted a year ago.
Already the leading set of software tools for digital advertising, DoubleClick is looking to provide a more seamless package that marketers and agencies can use to manage all their online advertising. It’s worth pointing out that competitors–from ad exchanges like AppNexus and OpenX to a raft of narrower but fast-growing ad technology firms serving advertisers and publishers, such as Turn, Rocket Fuel , MediaMath, Rubicon Project , and many others–view this another way. They see an already dominant unit of Google potentially becoming even more so.
The moves are part of Google’s larger goal of capturing a bigger piece of brand advertising, the image-oriented ads like those on television and in magazines that still constitute the large majority of ad spending overall. Part of that goal involves running ads on its own YouTube site, but Google also wants to provide a one-stop software shop for marketers to do digital advertising–a kind of ad operating system roughly analogous to Microsoft’s Windows has been for personal computers. “We’re really looking to crack this brand opportunity,” Neal Mohan, Google’s vice president of display advertising, said in an interview. “We’re starting to make inroads into that.”
Mohan will reveal more details at his keynote at the conference, which is being held in Dana Point, Calif. But these are the key points:
- DoubleClick goes social: Last year Google bought the social media marketing firm Wildfire Interactive. It was mostly focused on helping brands manage their Facebook pages, more than social ads, but it’s now clear that Google views Wildfire as its way to play in a world in which friends’ recommendations now can provide much broader influence on purchase decisions than ever before. Wildfire will now provide a way for marketers to track their social marketing within DoubleClick–”attribution modeling” in the lingo of ad geeks–so they can determine how visits to their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ affected a subsequent purchase or other activity the marketer cares about.
Up to now, that impact has had to be measured separately from the impact of search or display ads. “There was a hole there,” Mohan said. Google’s promising more ways they will incorporate Wildfire technology into DoubleClick, but it’s not talking specifics yet.
- DoubleClick goes native: Or Google promises it will. Google will talk about how a few publishers (disclosure: including Forbes, whose native ad format is called BrandVoice) have started tracking the impact of their native ads alongside other kinds of ads. At this point, Mohan says, these are mostly custom arrangement, but he’s promising that over the next couple of months, Google will broaden native ad support for more publishers.
“To scale and be effective for publishers, native formats need to be tracked alongside all the other formats,” he said. “It’s not really about replacing display ads. It’s just a different way to engage with customers.” Mohan said that 90% of the work needed to deliver ads is already core to DoubleClick for Publishers, Google’s tools for publishers to get the most out of their ad inventory.
Google also will debut a few other new services:
- DoubleClick Campaign Manager: A new version of its long-running core product DoubleClick for Advertisers, commonly known in the biz by its acronym DFA, the upgrade includes more integration of various functions, some of them from acquisitions of the last few years, as well as faster reporting of the results of ad campaigns.
- Shared YouTube ad sales: Google is testing a new feature in its publisher service, DoubleClick for Publishers, that automates joint sales of YouTube ad inventory by YouTube and other publishers. It could roll out in a few months.
- Viewable ad measurement: Active View, Google’s method of measuring when and how much an ad actually has been seen, so advertisers don’t need to pay for ads that weren’t actually viewed, will be available in DoubleClick for Publishers, AdSense (the program that lets publishers run Google ads on their sites in return for a cut of revenues), and the DoubleClick Ad Exchange, Google’s display ad marketplace.
- Google Web Designer: The company plans to release in coming months a free Web creative development service to help agencies and marketers easily create ads, web content, and apps.
Much of all that is promises for the future more than finished products today. Still, it’s likely to make what’s already the main way for online advertisers to run and track display ads even more compelling. At the same time, it also will put new pressure on competitors and make agencies and publishers alike even more wary of Google than they already were.
Indeed, there’s a potential downside to the announcements. On May 24 came reports that the Federal Trade Commission is looking into possible antitrust problems with Google’s display business. Although it’s not yet clear what spurred the probe or what the specific issues are, anything that makes Google’s growing stable of ad services work together even better is likely to raise the hackles of competitors and potentially provide more fodder for an antitrust case.
For now, though, that’s not keeping Google from going full speed ahead on its goal to become the most powerful force in display advertising.