Seeing an opportunity to expand that expertise into traditional media, Google in recent months has purchased ad pages in two technology magazines and made the space available to some of its advertisers. Google has also indicated that it is thinking about extending its ad-placement services to other areas, possibly including TV. (Brian Steinberg, WSJ)
The WSJ says that Google’s move has Madison Avenue trembling. For God sakes, why? Google doesn’t know anything about advertising.
All Google does is provide a channel for the delivery of what might just as well be classifieds. Everything in this pipeline is information. None of it is meaning. And meaning is what Madison Avenue makes. Meaning is what Madison Avenue does.
Of course, this does not mean that Google won’t stride into the advertising business and make an ass of itself. Most smart people look at marketing and say, with a patronizing smile, "How hard can this be?" They then try to do it themselves, in the process giving the world a most convincing demonstration of how hard it is.
It’s as if smart, numerate people believe that their qualifications are not so much skills, as secret passwords to any part of the business world they care to enter. And indeed, as long as the part of the business world they want to enter is governed by economics assumptions, this is largely correct. But the moment, they want to enter the part of the marketplace governed by culture, new rules apply, and now even very smart, and very numerate people are inclined to screw things up royalty. (This would be where the Google founders founder, I guess.)
What should Google do? I have a deep intuition that the right thing to do is to buy everyone in the corporation a copy of Culture and consumption II. Make that two copies. Mind you, that could just be me.
What will Google do? Chances are, it will try to enter advertising on it’s own and make a proper hash of it. Then it will buy an advertising agency and try to reverse engineer it to see how it works. (And wouldn’t we all like to be flies on the wall to witness this exercise in the inscrutable.)
What should Madison Avenue do? Tremble? Hah! There is a whapping great difference between computer science and cultural science.
Steinberg, Brian. 2005. Google Weighs on Madison Ave.: Ad Firms Watch Closely As Search Engine Ponders Move to Traditional Media. Wall Street Journal. Oct. 31, 2005. here. (subscription required).