from the but-who-is-next? dept.
Farhad Manjoo writes at the New York Timesthat at first glance Google looks plenty healthy, but growth in Google’s primary business, search advertising, has flattened out at about 20 percent a year for the last few years and although Google has spent considerable resources inventing technologies for the future, it has failed to turn many of its innovations into new moneymakers.
According to Manjoo, as smartphones eclipse laptop and desktop computers to become the planet’s most important computing devices, the digital ad business is rapidly changing and Facebook, Google’s arch rival for advertising dollars, has been quick to profit from the shift. Here’s why: The advertising business is split, roughly, into two. On one side are direct-response ads meant to induce an immediate purchase: Think classifieds, the Yellow Pages, catalogs or Google's own text-based ads running alongside its search results. But the bulk of the ad industry is devoted to something called brand ads, the ads you see on television and print magazines that work on your emotions in the belief that, in time, your dollars will follow.
“Google doesn’t create immersive experiences that you get lost in,” says Ben Thompson. “Google creates transactional services. You go to Google to search, or for maps, or with something else in mind. And those are the types of ads they have. But brand advertising isn’t about that kind of destination. It’s about an experience.” According to Thompson the future of online advertising looks increasingly like the business of television and is likely to be dominated by services like Facebook, Snapchat or Pinterest that keep people engaged for long periods of time and whose ads are proving to be massively more effective and engaging than banner advertisements.
In less than five years, Facebook has also built an enviable ad-technology infrastructure, a huge sales team that aims to persuade marketers of the benefits of Facebook ads over TV ads, and new ways for brands to measure how well their ads are doing. These efforts have paid off quickly: In 2014 Facebook sold $11.5 billion in ads, up 65 percent over 2013.
Google will still make a lot of money if it doesn’t dominate online ads the way it does now. But it will need to find other businesses to keep growing. This is why Google is spending on projects like a self-driving car, Google Glass, fiber-optic lines in American cities, space exploration, and other audacious innovations that have a slim chance of succeeding but might revolutionize the world if they do. But the far-out projects remind Thompson of Microsoft, which has also invested heavily in research and development, and has seen little return on its investments. “To me the Microsoft comparison can’t be more clear. This is the price of being so successful — what you’re seeing is that when a company becomes dominant, its dominance precludes it from dominating the next thing. It’s almost like a natural law of business.”