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Google Adds Social Features to DoubleClick Amid New FTC Questions

Ties in Wildfire Nearly a Year After Acquiring Social Software Firm

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Google has finally added new social capabilities to its DoubleClick online display advertising system, even as it faces new questions from the Federal Trade Commission over its growing dominance of the $36 billion U.S. digital ad market.

A year after bundling its advertising technology stack into the DoubleClick Digital Marketing platform, Google is incorporating some social features made possible by its $250 million acquisition of Wildfire in 2012. Neal Mohan, Google VP-display advertising, said the technology will help marketers measure how their social marketing impacts other channels such as search, display and mobile.

Neal Mohan, Google, at Ad Age Digital Conference 2012
Neal Mohan, Google, at Ad Age Digital Conference 2012

"The first Wildfire and DoubleClick integration is really around attribution, incorporating social engagement on a brand's social [accounts] into where brands are already used to looking at the results from all of their digital marketing efforts," Mr. Mohan said.

The new social tools were one of several enhancements to DoubleClick announced at a meeting of its advisory board of advertisers and publishers in Dana Point, Calif.

The event comes days after Mr. Mohan acknowledged that the FTC had contacted Google with new questions about its display ad business. "They have contacted us, and they're looking into some questions, which we'd obviously be happy to answer," Mr. Mohan said. The FTC closed a previous antitrust investigation of Google earlier this year, and in that review "no issues were whatsoever were raised about our display business," he said.

While social measurement is a big step for DoubleClick, the new capabilities are also notable for what they don't include. "Right now, as you know, Wildfire doesn't have a paid social tool nor does it have direct access to Facebook or the other social platforms that are out there," Mr. Mohan said. That leaves Google's advertisers to flock to competitors like Adobe or smaller pure-plays like Optimal and TBG Digital for their Facebook and Twitter buys.

Google's demand-side platform DoubleClick Bid Manager, the former Invite Media, has similarly been locked out of the increasingly popular Facebook Exchange and has seen buying agencies such as Mindshare and VivaKi's Audience on Demand turn elsewhere. Mr. Mohan referred a question about Google's inability to access Facebook's retargeting exchange to the social network.

Wildfire's social marketing suite will now plug into the new version of DoubleClick for Advertisers, dubbed DoubleClick Campaign Manager, to track the performance of non-paid social media campaigns such as polls and promotions alongside display ad and search campaigns. That reporting will be displayed on an aggregated basis, so marketers won't be able to tie a Facebook post's impression to a display ad click, but will instead correlate those compiled results. "Just like you'll see impressions and views for paid campaigns, you'll also understand the social activity as another part of what drove a certain amount of conversions down the funnel," Mr. Mohan explained.

Google is also socializing its YouTube sales strategy within DoubleClick for Publishers, testing a shared-selling feature to bundle a publisher's YouTube inventory with inventory on its own site to be sold by the publisher's or YouTube's sales teams (provided the publisher agrees to let YouTube sell its inventory). Previously publishers were resigned to manage their site's inventory separately from their YouTube inventory and had to manually manage things like who had first rights to which inventory and how could bundles be sold. Mr. Mohan said the technology powering the shared selling will respect the rules a publisher sets around its inventory, such as arrangements it may have with various advertising partners.

Finally Google will be helping publishers create and sell new types of inventory. The company is among those most responsible for the recent native advertising hype, having built a multibillion business on search ads that fit seamlessly with search-result pages and searchers' intentions. Beginning with a handful of publishers -- including Forbes, which has used DoubleClick to sell its sponsored story units -- DoubleClick for Publishers will support individual outlets' native ad products by plugging their content management systems into the platform. That way publishers can manage their native ad inventory alongside more traditional units, underscoring native as just another format.

"Native advertising, I don't think is something that's a replacement for or in lieu of display or video or what have you," Mr. Mohan said. "It's a great idea. It's another format that I think should work alongside all of those others."

But native ads are only as good as the content they promote. To help matters, Google has created Google Web Designer, a free product marketers can use to create rich-media content in HTML5, enabling it to run on desktop, tablets and smartphones.

Watch as Google unveils the the above-mentioned features and more at its ThinkDoubleClick event in Dana Point, Calif. on Tuesday:

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