Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Google Is Practical, Not Evil

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Google Is Practical, Not Evil

Article excerpt

The search-engine behemoth's behaviour is based on sound business practice, not sinister motives.

The other day, I was on a conference panel; the moderator opened proceedings by asking each of us: 'Yes, or no: is Google evil?'

Of course, it's a more complex question than those two answers allow - but I was struck by the interest in this issue and the strength of feeling around it. Clearly, marketers are starting to worry about the power of the search giant as its share of advertising grows. Their concerns manifest themselves in a variety of forms - mostly relating to Google's confident disregard of their interests in pursuit of its own.

Certainly, many marketers were angry at Google's abandonment of brand protection last year. Google argued that it had become judge and jury to endless brand disputes, which cost it time and money, and that it no longer wished to be the industry's arbiter. This was true. Also true is, that with brands bidding on each others' terms, the search engine makes more money. Google had operated this system in the US for some time and understood the yield model well.

While some advertisers claimed Google was guilty of trademark infringement, the UK's law courts ruled last year that it was the searcher - not the engine - that used the trademark. So, as it stands, the law seems to be on Google's side, no matter how many marketers complain.

Another concern was Google's now-abandoned 'best-practice funding'. This skewed auctions and damaged transparency by kicking back different amounts to different agencies, based on the criteria that Google had set. The market-distorting effect became clear as the scheme was abandoned, with several advertisers pitching their search business following the withdrawal of the subsidy.

What characterised both these initiatives was the self-assurance with which they were implemented by Google in the face of opposition from customers.

And what's wrong with that? Google has a clear view of its own interests, and pursues this vision single-mindedly. It is concerned only with what people think of it in so far as this might affect the achievement of its goals. In other words, reputation is purely a means to an end. But is it bad for the market?

Search engines claim that search is different, arguing that market dominance can't lead to exploitation, because their income depends on an auction. The customer sets prices for them - so while Google has a high market share (close to 90%), it can't exploit it. …

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