The frenemy of my frenemy is my, err?

10 April 2008 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Alastair Morton writes:

Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s CEO, has long recognised Google as a frenemy (part friend, part enemy). On one hand Google offers communications agencies the chance to buy interactive ads for its clients but, on the other, Google makes no secret of its intention to allow anyone to buy ads for themselves, thus disintermediating agencies.

Google has now announced that it will cease to restrict keywords for ads served to users in the UK and Ireland. This means that surfers who key-in a trademarked brand name such as ‘O2’ may also see rival brands (Orange, Virgin etc) appearing in the search results alongside those for the brand they had sought. It seems that Google is now a frenemy of brands – providing access to huge audiences but potentially eroding brand equity – as well as of communications agencies.

And in all of this, is Google making any real friends? Well, consumers apparently. Matt Brittin, Google UK director, claims that ‘we are making this change because we want to give users greater choices to help them make informed decisions.’ But there is a problem with this line of argument. Our Planning for Consumer Change (PCC) data shows that more than half of UK consumers, and nearly two-thirds of those aged 15-24, feel that there is sometimes so much choice nowadays that they can’t make a decision. To borrow from Barry Schwatrz’s critique of the notion of choice [article here, opens in pdf, see video here] “choice maximisers” may welcome greater information, but find it harder to ‘maximise’ – while ‘choice satisficers’ – usually happy to make a ‘good enough’ choice – will feel greater pressure to maximise their choice from all the available options. Both groups are likely to be more frustrated.

In truth, many consumers actively use trusted and recognised brands and providers to sift the choices which face them. Whether or not Google’s intentions are admirable, I have a feeling that this change will have more effect in growing their ad revenues than in helping consumers manage their already complicated decisions.

Entry filed under: brands, digital, marketing, media.

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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