Google and Social Advertising: Still Not Facebook, But That’s OK

This afternoon I was asked to give comment to a Time magazine reporter on Google’s recent decision to start personalizing some ads in its network — namely, that you will start to see Facebook-like names and thumbnail photos in advertising throughout the Google network.

While some people might think, ‘Oh great, that’s all I need,’ we have Facebook to thank for the concept of social advertising and Sponsored Stories.  What was once creepy and annoying is so ubiquitous that most consumers will hardly blink an eye.

 
Google+

As clickthrough rates continue to plummet, advertisers are instead focusing on impressions.  Facebook even increased the number of ad units appearing on a page from 5 to 7, as it’s clearly easier to deliver to advertisers impressions than clickthroughs.

And while seeing that your friend rated a particular game, or Liked a credit card brand may not motivate you to stop what you’re doing and make a purchase, there is still indeed purchasing influence.

Google’s announcement was inevitable also because Google owns not only the growing Google+ social network (with headcount at about 390 million), but also Google Maps, Google Offers, Zagat (which might be folded into Google Local), and of course Gmail, though as Liz Gannes of AllThingsD noted, the ads are only for a logged-in, walled-garden experience.

Indeed, YouTube, the Google Play store, and chat/voice/video platform Google Hangouts could all begin to see contextually-relevant, social ads based on what your friends have +1’d throughout Google+.

Though Google will stop short of making itself look like Facebook.  The company has been in and out of federal court on privacy and data issues, and cannot lose consumers who feel that their experience is being compromised — or just think it’s just plain creepy to see friends’ thumbnail photos at every moment.

An opportunity in all of this is for B2B advertisers, who, via their Google+ page, can +1 dozens or hundreds of company and product pages throughout — and via this new initiative, begin to see their thumbnail photo — most likely, their corporate logo — appear in the newsfeeds of clients or prospects.  This of course does not and cannot happen on Facebook.

In a larger context, more relevant advertising — socialized or not — is important to keep the consumer Internet alive and well, as noted in last Friday’s TechCrunch story by reporter Josh Constine.  In the late 1990s, many publishers and news sites explored premium business models whereby if you pay, you don’t see ads.  This is long gone, as a smaller audience seeing ads drives the overall price of ads down, thereby suffocating the publisher.  Indeed, paid access to the New York Times still includes ads and even if you pay for a premium account on LinkedIn, you still see ads.

‘If you’re not the customer, you’re the product,’ notes Constine in TechCrunch.

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