Offline domination still a world away for Google

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Google's introduction of an auction-based print ad service and an automated radio ad-buying company left many buyers and sellers fretting that the search giant could dominate offline media the way it holds sway online.

But if that happens, it will be years away.

For one, not only are Google Print and radio ad-buyer dMarc still new and largely untested, they are currently considered remnant services that don't meet the needs of large mainstream marketers, and buyers said it will be years before Google is equipped to offer one-stop shopping across all media. "You are not going to find big advertisers going after" the new Google services, said George Janson, managing partner and director of print at Mediaedge:cia. "They are going after the low-hanging fruit."

Nor does Google now have the off- line mass, efficiencies or expertise in buying to disrupt traditional media agencies—yet.

"What Google is trying to do is become a one-stop media shop," said Shar VanBoskirk, a Forrester Research analyst who specializes in the interactive area. "The skills that a good media buyer has are still necessary. But the way that marketers buy will change—on a CPM, a cost-per-action or on a bid basis; and a media agency will have to accommodate all those possibilities."

Off to a shaky start

For now, Google is off to a shaky start. DMarc isn't yet up and running as a Google unit, and Google Print is still in a testing phase. "Google doesn't know anything about the radio business," said Kathy Crawford, president of local broadcast for MindShare.

Google Print and dMarc are essentially remnant ad services, attractive to small companies looking for last-minute deals, although dMarc has told media agencies that it is going to hold out a quantity of inventory to be used for upfront or long-term media planning purposes. "I don't think it's aimed at large advertisers," said Safa Rashtchy, managing director of Piper Jaffrey. "That is the goal eventually. To begin with, they have to prime it with small advertisers."

Tim Armstrong, Google VP-advertising sales and operations, has told Advertising Age that "The walls between offline and online budgets are starting to come down quickly. ... We are always considering ways to extend ad programming." And the promise behind that multichannel ad programming is increased efficiency.

Patrick Keane, Google's head of sales strategy, said the main benefit is "deeper metrics." Auction-based print and radio "are really the research and development for advertising publishers and agencies," he said. "It's a deeper set of metrics for accountability and performance for how their ads work."

DMarc "would allow you to buy and sell inventory on an automated basis," said Matt Feinberg, senior VP-radio and interactive broadcast extensions at Zenith Media, and provide a giant step toward accountability. "You would buy a spot on a station and be able to tell within a close time frame if your spot ran and where exactly it ran," he said.

But for big brands to call on Google to place print, radio or even TV ads, it needs essentially what it has online: mass. The company would need to migrate a lot of its online advertisers to offline as well.

Google's strategy is to start with remnant inventory and enlist small marketers to make it popular, just as it did with the online paid search model, analysts said. "To begin with, they will bring in 400 or 500 advertisers and, when they get good, they will reach big advertisers," Rashtchy said.

Right now, companies such as Ford Motor Co. and Kraft Foods would only look to Google's offline services if it could offer better targeting or more efficiency than what they could get from agencies. "If Google could represent hundreds of magazines, then they would have the mass to offer efficiency to big advertisers," Rashtchy said.

Kris Oser is a reporter for Advertising Age, a sibling publication of BtoB.

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