The End Of Accidental Advertising?

In the late 1990s, CBS aired Early Edition, a dramatic program with an interesting premise. Each week the central character, Gary, received tomorrow's Chicago Sun-Times The episode walked the viewer through a story, detailing how Gary would try to save people's lives or prevent disasters from happening. We never learned why or how tomorrow's news got to him; instead, we simply saw the results that come when one acts on a tip from the future.

Let's face it, who at one time hasn't wished for a crystal ball (or, at the very least, a sneak peek at next week's winning lottery numbers)? Fortunetellers prospered for hundreds of years, while pundits and prognosticators abound to this day. From Faith Popcorn to Bill Gates, from Wired to Red Herring, there's no shortage of sources seeking to show us the road ahead.
I enjoy reading about what's coming next. Whether you label these insights as forecasts, predictions, or wild guesses, they put my mind in a mode of discovery. I'm prompted to explore new areas of interest, and accordingly learn new skills.

That's why I'm intrigued by Google's foray into advertising media outside of the realm of keyword searches. As I write this, the company is advertising on for account executives in my market:

Account Executive, Google Audio:
To sell, lead, and manage the development of region, and multi-city advertising solutions for our customers. This individual should be able to establish relationships with agency network and clients directly... and drive the total region's sales efforts...

In fact, the "about Google" descriptive paragraph found at the end of this job listing spells out its actions and intentions:

Google's targeted advertising program, which is the largest and fastest growing in the industry, provides businesses of all sizes with measurable results, while enhancing the overall web experience for users.

So why is Google getting into audio and video? Note that I didn't say radio and television; to me, those terms merely represent both the physical devices and the distribution tools we've used to enjoy both aural and visual content over the years.

Even if an oft-discussed strategic partnership between Google and a major TV network is executed by the time this column hits the presses, I still have more questions than I do answers.

So far, Google has succeeded by offering relevance

with its search results. Its current ability to connect solutions to needs is at the heart of why and how most advertising works, and also why Google has been so successful.

However, there's one aspect of advertising that "search" largely misses. It's branding--and the building of forward equity in the mind of the consumer. For example, if the results from my latest online search generate three equal options, which one will I be predisposed to act upon first? My experience says it will be the one that I already have a good feeling about, not the one that I'm now discovering for the very first time.

Let's go back to Google's self-described positioning statement: "...provides businesses of all sizes with measurable results...". How will they apply this criterion to mass media?

While simple math can calculate click-through ratios and cost-per-click expenses, how will they report "measurable results" to their business clients once Google Audio (Radio) and Google Video (TV) are part of the mix? I'm not just talking about contextual text ads appearing alongside the search results of podcasts and user-generated videos. I'm addressing their actual acquisition of radio and TV inventory on a local, regional and national basis.

One of the obstacles Google will face in our business is this: what commercial do we run? After all, someone still has to create the actual TV video message itself.

One company mentioned as a possible Google acquisition target is Spot Runner, an online entity I analyzed at length in this column in April 2006. At the time, I said that it wasn't a very cost efficient way to acquire TV commercial inventory. I did, however, point out that its online provisioning of "creative" had potential. Now that Google has the ability to acquire spot inventory and create and sell a multimedia ad schedule, a combination of efforts makes more sense.

I understand why they want to get into "our" business--it's where the money is. While online advertising expenditures are increasing, they still trail the "Big Three" of television, radio, and newspaper...for now.

So the question remains: do Google's initiatives into both audio and video foreshadow an end to what I call "accidental advertising," or the exposure to ad messages that aren't relevant to me? I hope not. While there are many products and services that I don't want or need, I still benefit from an awareness of their existence. I welcome the ability to drive out inefficiencies in advertising, but would certainly mourn its passing as an entertainment source!

Google CEO Eric Schmidt calls Google's mission a long-term one. "It will take, current estimate, 300 years to organize all of the world's information," he told the Wall Street Journal

(6/30/05). Can his company attack and eliminate accidental advertising within that same time frame? We'll have to keep an eye on tomorrow's news to get the answer to that question.