I read Curt Hecht's AdExchanger interview this morning with puzzlement and, eventually, horror. Vivaki is drawing the precisely wrong conclusions from their evaluation of the situation.
[re Invite Media] Google realizes it's for the DFA stack, away from media, and they appreciate that it works just like search bid management or serving ads. It's a good thing for the industry that they're taking the interoperable view... I assume they'll eventually put them on the Google Stack, but for the time being we just want to keep progress going the way that it has been... I think [re the Invite Media acquisition] it's great that what you're seeing is some consistency where Omnicom and InterPublic Group... they both have come out supportive and positive.If I'm reading this right, Vivaki thinks that Google wants a position in display like they have in search. Also, that Invite is not about media (I infer that it must, therefore, be about data.) And that even though Google is talking interoperability now, they will eventually integrate Invite into the rest of Google (making interoperability problematic, to say the least.) Oh, and they seem to think this is all peachy, and say that everyone else in the industry thinks so too.
This is why we can't have nice things.
For the sake of argument I'll grant that the agencies and their holding companies might not have been able to anticipate Google's dominance of search ads in the '00s. But let me nip future arguments in the bud: Google is trying to lock up display like it did search. Now you know. You're going into this particular battle with 20/20 foresight. If you do something stupid here, you've got no one to blame but yourself.
Google is a publisher and ad network. They make almost all of their considerable profit from people buying their ad inventory or that of their content partners. When any other piece of the value chain starts to look vaguely powerful, they commoditize it by buying and subsidizing someone who provides that piece. Urchin, Feedburner, Android, Teracent and (not yet subsidized, but mark my words) Invite Media.
In the short-term Vivaki will have lower costs. In the long-term the complement that will be commoditized is Vivaki. I know talk of disintermediating the agencies is as old as the DARPAnet, and I am usually one of the scoffers*. But this time it's different, for one important reason: data.
Google says that they are going to keep Invite as a separate entity. This is bull, as even Vivaki admits. The 2010 strategy du jour is to say one thing then do the opposite, and Google is a master of it**. Invite Media will be integrated with Google, and when it happens, a self-reinforcing cycle starts.
Brian Lesser said last week "we believe in the importance of proprietary technology to ensure the integrity of our client’s data... Every buy that an agency sends through a DSP makes that DSP smarter." If Google gives Invite access to the effectiveness and cost data from AdSense and GCN, Invite will have more data than anyone else in the business, by a long shot. By having more data, they can become more effective targeters, which will give them more market share, which will give them more data. This feedback cycle of proprietary learning will make it impossible for anyone else to compete in the market for targeting services. And Vivaki and the rest of the industry*** will end up as non-strategic customer service reps for Google's media planning and buying solution.
In fact, treating Invite as if Google's promise to leave it stand-alone were true is a mistake for everyone in the industry. It's easy to see, despite Neil Mohan's sweet-talking, that every DSP has to assume that each of their orders on the Google ad exchange will get seen by Invite. It's difficult to invest in novel strategies when you know your competition will see them in real-time. Almost everyone else in the industry has similar problems, or just the awful problem of potentially dealing with a single supplier/customer.
But the conundrum the other exchanges have is the most interesting. Vivaki implies that Microsoft is psyched about the Invite acquisition. That's ridiculous. The integration of Hotmail inventory and AdECN into Invite is not a result of Microsoft wanting to work with Google. Integrations take time, so this one certainly started (and was probably complete) before Microsoft even knew about the Invite acquisition. Moreover, while Microsoft has proven itself to be a difficult political environment for ad companies to thrive in, the people there are not stupid, not by a long shot. And being excited about giving your nemesis access to your trade secrets would be very, very stupid. The same is true of Yahoo! and AOL.
Because when Invite is integrated into Google, it seems reasonable to assume that Google will:
- Start cherry-picking the other exchanges' best publishers; and
- Start front-running the other exchanges, keeping the demand for themselves****.
Darren Herman said to me "it's like we're paying Google to take our business." It would be one thing if companies lose to Google because Google just flat-out does things better: there's no crying in baseball. But the game's barely started. Keeping progress going the way it has been is the wrong strategy. Recognize the threat and respond.
* When entrepreneurs tell me "if the agencies don't adopt our technology the agencies will become irrelevant," I say "if the agencies don't adopt your technology, then you will become irrelevant." The agency owns their customer, the marketer, and they are good at and jealous of that ownership.
** Google's switch on mobile phones and Apple's bait-and-switch to app developers are two recent examples.
*** I was a little puzzled by Hecht taking everyone else's lip service on the Invite acquisition at face value. While everyone I know is still pondering what it means, no one is really fully on board. Of course they say they are, but when was the last time you heard a holding company executive (Martin Sorrell the exception proving the rule, as always) say anything revealing? For what agency execs really think, read Darren Herman's post on Dart and Atlas.
**** It's widely rumored in the industry that Google has a double standard in exchange pricing between people buying through Google's user interfaces and people buying through the exchange API. If Invite is an insider, it shouldn't surprise anyone if they get preferred access.