Should Google be the citizens’ ad agency?

Should Google be the citizens’ ad agency?

: The Times on Friday gave front-page coverage to the incredible rise of Google’s ad revenue on the back of both search words and also ad placements on content everywhere, including citizens’ media.

The fact that Eli Lilly, Napster, Novartis and Staples are among Super Bowl advertisers that are also regulars on Google is not the only evidence that Web advertising has come of age.

On Tuesday, Google, the most popular Internet search company, announced that it had passed a significant milestone by selling $1 billion of advertising during the last three months of 2004.

But it makes me wonder whether we’re foolish letting Google be our ad sales agent. For Google undersells the value of citizens’ media: Google sells the coincidence of a word on a page when the real value of citizens’ media is in its conversation, its relationships, its influence.

Mind you, we should bless Google for taking the cooties off of citizens’ media and showing that, indeed, real people have a message and audience worth attention.

But now I think it’s necessary for citizens’ media to find its own path, its own sales agent who can sell its own value.

In The Times piece, Googles vp for advertising, Tim Armstrong, said, according to the paper’s paraphrasing, that “advertising has become a dialogue with the consumer.” Absolutely. But is it really a dialogue via Google? OK, it’s a start. But can the dialogue become much richer? Of course, it can. Later in the piece:

“You’re seeing advertising move into advertising that people can seek out, and moving away from mass advertising,” said Peter Sealey, a former Coca-Cola marketing executive who now teaches at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. “In the context of that shift, this little niche of Internet search will be a huge beneficiary.”

But it’s not just search. Lord knows, search is incredibly effective and efficient and powerful and rich and that’s great. But we aren’t just search results. We’re people.

Ah, but we’re too small, you say. Says The Times:

Google, by developing a reputation for returning the most relevant search results, became the most popular search site. In December, Google’s site attracted 67.1 million different American users, who each spent an average total of 30 minutes on the site, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. By contrast, Yahoo’s search service drew 47.9 million American visitors, who spent an average 12 minutes in December.

Well, Pew says that 32 million Americans read blogs. We ain’t chicken liver. We’re getting to be a medium unto ourselves. Now we need to start acting like it.

: LATER: Om Malik wrote about why Google as our ad agency has issues.

  • When we go to Google’s search, we are actually trying to participate in a conversation with Google. The conversation is direct and simple: I’m looking for X. The ads are part of that conversation: “I have XY, is that what you were looking for?”
    When we visit sites that include Google advertising, we are not looking for those kinds of things but other kinds of things. When we visit Buzzmachine, we are looking for crisp commentary by Jeff Jarvis on certain kinds of current events. They can’t sell us that because we’ve found it, and it’s rude conversation for Google to try to sell competing products. “Wouldn’t you rather read Mickey Kaus instead? Click here to go to Slate!”
    The appropriate place for Google to place ads is in SEARCH functions on personal sites. That’s where the reader is actually involved in the conversation. Me: “I’m looking on Buzzmachine for more information on the nature of internet community.” google: “You might want to read Clay Shirky for that.” Me: “Did Jarvis say anything about the tsunami coverage?” google: “Only once, and it was a sidebar. But here are the ten top blogs for that.”

  • om

    to confirm your worst fears, here is a piece i posted
    Google Making More, Dishing Out Less

  • Seems like you’re asking for unobtainable perfection from advertising. Either the ad is served with some imperfect intelligence, ala Google, or an ad is purchased on what the advertiser thinks is a relevant site, as BlogAds allows advertisers to do on many blogs. If the “ad” becomes part of the “conversation”, then aren’t you risking the same sort of conflict of interest that just got Armstrong Williams in trouble?
    No, seriously… the very act of “advertising” means that you are paying someone to plug something. A “recommendation” is appropriate for a conversation, an “advertisement” is not. How else could advertising within conversation take place? “Forget Social Security for a minute. You guys should try Brell Cream! By the way, Brell Cream paid me to tell you that.”

  • Zed

    Jeff, excellent post,

  • Jon

    Unfortunately, Google may be playing a darker, more sinister role in American society: corporate censor.
    Last year, the Google Adwords team discontinued all advertisements placed by the political web site due to

  • Zed

    Google Adwords won’t let use the word Burma as a keyword.
    I guess my regular post on the oppression there doesn’t look right under other ads selling vacations to Burma.