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“Peak Google”? Maybe, But Is “Native” The Reason?

By - October 23, 2014
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From Thompson’s “Peak Google” post.

I love Ben Thompson’s Stratechery site, so much in fact that I’m writing a response to his recent “Peak Google” post, even though these days most of us limit our bloggy commentary to the 140-character windows of Twitter.

I’m responding to Thompson’s post for a couple of reasons. First of all, the headline alone was enough to get me interested, and judging from the retweets, I was not alone. But I try not to retweet stuff I haven’t actually read (which, as Chartbeat has shown us, is not the case with most of us). I waited until this morning to read Ben’s post, which compares Google with IBM and Microsoft, each of which once could claim king of the mountain status in tech, but have since been eclipsed.

But the real reason I’m responding is Thompson’s thesis that Google is at its peak, about to be eclipsed by Facebook or Pinterest or some other advertising-based company. Thompson theorizes that native advertising will carry the day, and because Google lacks the skills necessary to win in native, the company will slowly fade into profitable irrelevance (as have IBM and Microsoft).

I think the story was picked up for the resonance of its headline meme – that Google may be at the peak of its power, poised for decline – rather that the substance of its argument around native advertising. And that’s a shame, because Thompson makes any number of interesting points about Google that bear debate. In no particular order:

– Google isn’t good at native or the more “human” side of advertising. I disagree. As Thompson acknowledges in an update to his original post, Google’s search ads are by definition native – I believe search advertising is the most scaled, profitable, and useful native platform in the world. And while Google has struggled to find its voice as a media company, it’s been near-perfect at creating a platform that lets others express their voice in advertising – millions of customers use AdWords to create authentic ads in real time. And its YouTube platform is poised to be one of the largest brand channels in the world.

– Search isn’t a brand platform, and native is. I also disagree – that search isn’t a brand platform, anyway. Yes, search ads tend to be “down funnel” and direct response driven. But any brand who isn’t playing in search, which includes creation of search-friendly content, is missing a huge part of the role brands must now play as creators of great content.

– No one has yet “won” in native. Totally agree. We’re in the very early innings, though Facebook has been a clear winner to date.

– Search ads will be eclipsed by native. I sort of agree – but I prefer to think that neither native nor search ads will dominate going forward. Instead, we’ll see a blending of the two – what I’ve called programmatic native. And there’s no greater example of programmatic native than search. It’s not clear Google will win here, but it doesn’t hurt to own both search AND YouTube, not to mention Android and Google Maps/Local/Earth/Now, as you work on figuring it out.

Again, I think there’s a reason that “Peak Google” resonates so strongly in this industry – we’ve seen the movie with IBM and Microsoft, and everyone loves a story that fits a common narrative. But I’m not sure native advertising is the reason Google will fade to irrelevance over time.

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4 thoughts on ““Peak Google”? Maybe, But Is “Native” The Reason?

  1. Product Listing Ads are the perfect example for your first and last points. A new and improved native format: images, pricing and availability to help you better find what you’re looking. And it’s a 2 year old, $5B market that’s accelerating

  2. There’s no real debate that Peak Google is here. Maybe they’ll discover solar or something – sorry for the klugy analogy – but Google freely admits that search volume is down.

    First, user behavior is shifting away; the kids don’t use the goog’. Prove this out by going to trends.google.com and look for pretty much anything – the trend is down unless you’re looking for recent cultural “moments” like Miley Cyrus or whomever.

    Second, hardware trends make it harder to discover anything below the 3rd position on Google; what search there is, is increasingly done on mobile devices (where only three links or whatever show).

    And yeah, “native” is the reason, because “Native” is what Yahoo Gemini and Facebook call their ad units. If they called it “ppc” then no, “Native” wouldn’t be the reason – but we’d still be at Peak Google.

  3. Nathan Schor says:

    ‘the company will slowly fade into profitable irrelevance’
    Wonderful phrase – ‘profitable irrelevance’. I may borrow it, but only rarely. 😉

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