Many years ago, starting out in media monitoring, I spent my nights reading (and cutting out bits of) newspapers. One thing that kept me going was the pleasure of the Wall Street Journal’s illustrated portraits. The Journal has never gone for a photo of an article’s subjects where a slightly shaky line drawing will do.
A fine example of the oeuvre accompanied Saturday’s interview with Eric Schmidt. The Google CEO was sketched with a blankly smiling, childlike face – a face redolent of Google circa 2003-2007, all beanbags and luxury staff meals served on candystriped plates, the colours of the Google logo.
More recently, the Googleplex has been more Yorkshire Moors than Starbright Park. Analysts and investors are asking questions, with Google’s stock price having fallen nearly $150 since the beginning of the year. In a recent article entitled ‘Google: the search party is over‘, Fortune argued that Google faces a “classic Innovator’s Dilemma”, struggling to find new areas of growth while its advertising revenues come under increasing pressure from Facebook.
Certainly there are signs that Facebook is becoming a real force in online advertising. The social network offers a hybrid of search and display, applying cost-per-click pricing to the more traditional online approach. But by drawing on profile data, Facebook wants to make this interruptive advertising targeted to the nth degree. In theory, at least, the model is potent.
In the Journal interview, Schmidt admitted that Facebook was “a company of consequence” – but he was adamant that Google was ready for the hyper-targeting fight. Though Google’s route is slightly different – Android, Chrome OS –the search company shares Facebook’s aim to personalise the ads it serves. As Schmidt told the paper, “we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are.” And as the Journal adds:
Google also knows, to within a foot, where you are. Mr. Schmidt leaves it to a listener to imagine the possibilities: If you need milk and there’s a place nearby to get milk, Google will remind you to get milk. It will tell you a store ahead has a collection of horse-racing posters, that a 19th-century murder you’ve been reading about took place on the next block.
Such geo-personalisation makes the immediate future fascinating. There’s no doubt that Facebook is a phenomenon, but in order to generate sustainable revenues from its cultural omnipresence it must make advertising more relevant.
Right now, Google remains most online marketers’ first port of call. Search advertising is ruled by user intent, which of course is highly personalising even in the absence of additional user information. In the words of a recent eConsultancy post, “even with 500m users, Facebook is no substitute for search.”