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Platform Wars: Amazon, Google, Windows 8 Dominate Advertising Week

Differentiating The Crush of Tech Giants That Vied for Center Stage During Annual Confab

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Advertising Week was dominated by tech platforms offering their vision of the future of marketing.

By "platform" -- an overused word as everyone seems to either be one or have one -- we mean end-to-end services, controlled by one company, that integrate devices, software and consumer relationships.

From a consumer standpoint, think Apple, with its iPhones and iPads tied into services, media and an ecosystem of apps, or Google, which has led the way in building out an advertising-supported platform with search, display, Chrome and Android.

Here's a look at the Advertising Week pitches (or non-pitches), which included two other aspiring ad-platform players: Amazon and Microsoft's Windows 8.

Amazon Media Services
Amazon has been selling ads for years, mostly to help brands boost sales on Amazon.com. But last week's coming-out party to the wider market indicated its intent to sell ads to industries that don't sell things on Amazon, such as automotive. Amazon is touting its own network of websites including Zappos, Diapers.com and IMDB, Kindle devices, third-party site targeting and the ability to pinpoint segments such as moms shopping for diapers or men who research electronic gadgets. Sellers can also retarget customers off Amazon, boosting direct sales. Like everything with Amazon, ads are about improving the consumer experience and subsidizing products, so expect more at least partially ad-supported products to come.

Microsoft's Windows 8
For the first time, all Windows devices -- the PC, tablets, Xbox and mobile -- will have a signature look and feel. As Microsoft's president of web services, Qi Lu, said, "Some of those experiences are naturally ad-funded." The new operating system has its own native ad unit, part of its swipeable array of colorful desktop tiles. Microsoft invited agencies into the design process; Razorfish, for example, created an experience for client Delta. Awkwardly, Microsoft is dealing with blowback from its new web browser's Do Not Track feature, which could temper marketer enthusiasm for anything Windows.

Google
Google is trying to move up-funnel from direct-response search ads, and that means convincing TV advertisers to invest in display, YouTube and mobile ads. It unveiled a new ad unit, Lightbox, which turns an online display unit into a full-page ad, and is touting the branding attributes of mobile and YouTube, where Google has invested in content. To get agencies to use its tools, it launched Google BrandLab at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Calif.

Apple's IOS
Apple remains a shadow player at industry events, a holdover of its intensely closed nature. But its iAd inhabits the upper-funnel branding end of mobile advertising. It's still relatively niche with a mobile-ad run rate of about $150 million in 2012, per eMarketer. Perhaps the bigger opportunity for brands is Apple's Passbook, where users upload coupons, credit and loyalty cards, and can also be targeted with offers.

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