Cannes 2008

Cannes Topic du Jour: Google-Yahoo 'Love Affair'

Panelists Take Sides at Seminar

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CANNES ( -- The big topic of the day was the latest love affair to roil adland: the recently announced search hook-up between Google and Yahoo.

WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell, who moderated a "Cannes Debate" seminar today, opened it up by asking panelists from both paramours what's with their "new love affair." The panelists quickly took positions on opposite sides of whether Yahoo's outsourcing of search monetization to search giant Google will create a uneven playing field and drive up prices for advertisers.

C'est fantastique, says Henrique
While partnering with a rival holding company seems impractical in adland, said Henrique de Castro, managing director of European sales and media solutions at Google, "the internet is different. ... We try to make the system as open as possible." He went on to compliment Yahoo on its "fantastic properties" and said it is Google's goal to leverage those properties to provide users with the best and most relevant advertising.

Things got a bit heated, though, when Kevin Johnson, president-platforms and services division at Microsoft, censured the Google-Yahoo search deal, citing anticompetitiveness and a restriction of choices for advertisers. Other panelists were Hilary Schneider, exec VP-global partner solutions division at Yahoo, and Ron Grant, president-chief operating officer of AOL.

During a question-and-answer session later in the day with Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom, the chairman-CEO of Publicis Groupe, Maurice Levy, said he wasn't concerned about the Yahoo-Google deal and the potential for higher keyword prices. He also poked at long-term rival Mr. Sorrell and his habit of characterizing Google as a "frenemy."

'Starting to understand'
Mr. Levy suggested that Mr. Sorrell is changing his outlook on Google's benefit to the ad world. "He's starting to understand what's going on in this world, which is a good thing," Mr. Levy said to enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Mr. Sorrell, at one point, asked why Google snagged a top creative from one of his agencies (referring to Andy Berndt, the former Ogilvy & Mather, New York, co-president lured away last fall) and pleaded to the panelists: "Please don't raid us."
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