Google wants to destroy the advertising industry. (At last someone says it.)

Cindy Gallop, former CEO of ad agency BBH New York, said at the Cannes Festival that Google wants to destroy the ad industry. Is she right?

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

In a post last week, I mentioned that the world's advertising agencies and their clients were all congregating (religious reference intended) in Cannes for the annual Advertising Festival.

Finally, one of the advertising executives, perhaps enjoying the fresh sea air that thankfully accompanies the hot air coming out of some people's mouths, could take it no more.

Google "clearly wants to replace the advertising industry in its totality," said Cindy Gallop, former CEO of the extremely well-respected agency BBH.

According to the International Herald Tribune, Ms. Gallop went on to declare that Google would be "fundamentally undermined".

This she puts down to Google's view of advertising as something akin to chewing gum stuck to your nipple after a day's sunning your back on the beach.

No, those weren't her exact words. But they seem to reflect her sentiment.

Naturally Google offered platitudes that suggested working with ad agencies was akin to rolling in rose petals on 350 thread count sheets at the W Hotel.

However, Google is not a communications company.

Its foundation is a very deep belief in the power of its own (genetic?) engineering.

The company's founders believe that progress would be represented by a Google Search Chip implanted in every human head.

So why wouldn't they believe, in the head that is their heart, that they can create algorithms efficient enough to replace any element of creativity of the kind offered by the scruffy unwashed agency types after three years at art school?

It would surely be the apogee of any engineer's career to create a system that, when presented to clients, appeared to be infallible.

You don't need to be much of a Barnum to say: "Put 2,400 of these boring boxes along the side of our search results and rejoice as a million customers roll your way as if drawn by a magnet!!!"

Imagine creating a system that guaranteed results without any concern about whether one of those idea things can capture the public's imagination.

Creativity of the kind that advertising agencies have been selling for the last fifty years brings with it uncertainty. It is the same uncertainty felt by the producers of The Love Guru, which, despite having a bankable star, was left limp by the fickle feet of the public last weekend.

Clients certainly don't like uncertainty.

So a relentless Google can hope to offer something ad agencies can't- guarantees. And a new motto: SEARCH AND DESTROY.


What can agencies do?

Perhaps they should suggest to clients that all display advertising should disappear for twelve months.

Perhaps they could persuade the clients to invest everything in search (while retaining the agencies' services on a retainer, of course) and see what kind of results would rumba forth from the algorithms.

Perhaps, if the results are not quite what the GoogleGods promised, agencies might find a rational argument for the power of their creative product.

So many CEOs and Presidents do not see or appreciate the value in advertising at all. So many CMOs (average position in the post, twenty-one months) have very little dialogue with their CEOs.

Search is an utter delight for these CMOs, because the CFO might understand it (it's based on numbers, you see, so the CFO can then explain it to the CEO) and the results are, allegedly, incontrovertible (and in a perfect GoogleWorld, guaranteed).

It's not that Google hates advertising. Or advertising agencies.

It's that Google's engineering bent means they would love for there to be no need for anything that resembles emotionality at all.

Of course, there's one thing that all ad agencies should remember and think about every day.

According to the Harris Interactive Reputation Quotient study, Google is now regarded as the most reputable company in America.

And they did it without anything that might resemble an ad campaign.

Ad agencies' biggest problem (other than their utter failure to invest in much at all, while begging clients to invest in their creative ideas) is that they persist in selling conventional campaigns and media plans that would not look out of place on Mad Men.

In many agencies, the creative department and the media people are not merely in separate buildings. They are in separate companies. (Separate profit centers, see. Very clever, that.)

Meanwhile, here in the real world, there is no such thing as discrete advertising any more.

Every piece of commercial activity is an ad. Many pieces of human activity are ads.

And Google understood, or was just plain lucky to discover, that a warm and cuddly name and logo, coupled with a search product that far outstripped rivals, was enough to create a lasting brand.

Why shouldn't they try to persuade every other client in America of that too?

There might be one little problem for the Googlers, though.

There are very few industries where a product enjoys such a lack of meaningful competition as Google.

I wonder if Google will remember that as they try, like good, consistent engineers, to sell the same thing to everyone.

By the way, just thought you'd like to know. Microsoft paid for 550 people to go to the Cannes Advertising Festival.

What do you think that means?