Daniel Gilbert: the chief executive officer of Brainlabs
Daniel Gilbert: the chief executive officer of Brainlabs
A view from Daniel Gilbert

Why Brainlabs won't be pulling any spend from Google

Brainlabs' chief explains why he won't be advising clients to pull ad spend off Google.

The recent blame game where Google is the "big baddie" is pure deflection in an attempt to hide the real truth – that media agencies and advertisers don’t understand how to run effective ad campaigns on Google’s platforms.

It’s not necessarily their fault either. I’m not here to join in with the blame game. The ad world has changed significantly in the past 10 years. The entire media buying model has been flipped on its head. Agencies used to reserve media over lunches and drinks whereas nowadays the majority of media is purchased via real time auction systems – no suits required.

Whether this is good or bad is irrelevant, it’s not going away. The point is that an entire industry has changed so it’s no surprise that the media industry has been slow to catch on to how to actually use these platforms safely and effectively.

Let’s reduce things back to basics. Google ad platforms (eg AdWords and DoubleClick Bid Manager) are self-service platforms. That means you control it yourself. You choose what your ads say, where to show them, for how much, how often. You can choose whether or not to show against unrated content, or to only show against certain channels or placements.

An entire industry has changed so it’s no surprise that the media industry has been slow to catch on to how to actually use these platforms safely and effectively.

DBM provides detailed reports virtually in real time on where you’ve appeared and how much you’ve spent. So if you appear next to content that isn’t right, that’s mostly your own fault. I’m talking about the "self" in "self-service". This is where the media agency value-add should come from. If you can’t buy and re-sell inventory at a discount then you must have a skill in purchasing it, including but not limited to making sure your client’s ads appear next to content they are happy with.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nobody that can operate perfectly in this new ecosystem. Brainlabs have had ads appear on dodgy sites which we subsequently blocked. And it will definitely happen to us again. That’s the nature of programmatic advertising. But even for businesses where brand safety is of the utmost importance, a complete withdrawal from Google is misguided. There are ways of ensuring safety, so long as you are willing to take the necessary precautions.

Creating an "opt-in-only" whitelist for the top 2,000 YouTube channels, for example, would still reach 70% of viewers (according to our internal data). This is something we’ve done for our most brand sensitive advertisers.

For others we follow a robust six step process to do everything in our power to ensure brand safety. You might be surprised to hear that such a young agency is so hot on corporate governance but we were born in the programmatic era – we’ve been there before and understand the risks that come with the rewards.

I don’t want to remove all responsibility from Google as they could definitely make our lives easier. The recently announced changes to their classification policies are a welcome addition. However, they are not a traditional media owner, regardless of how the media agencies want to treat them. If we wait for them to behave like one then I imagine we’ll be waiting rather a long time.

There are some challenges that arise when the media owner is actually a self-service platform. As with anything, we have to take the bad with the good. Fortunately, there is plenty of good from big G:

They democratised advertising

It’s a word that often gets misused, but it’s true in this case. PPC wasn’t Google’s invention, but they made it accessible to everyone by making a user-friendly platform (AdWords) that a business of any size could benefit from.

They built a relevancy metric (Quality Score) into the ranking algorithm, so that even the smallest businesses could compete in their niche without any spending power.

They have created a kind of economic "perfect competition" in advertising, where brainpower can overcome buying power. For those that appreciate software development, it is a truly remarkable feat of engineering – processing and computing more data than any other advertising system in the world.

They made the internet come to life again

The internet is massive and for a while there were huge patches of it that were basically unreachable, or just dormant. Through its purchase of DoubleClick in 2008, along with its huge network of ad exchanges, and the expanding digital library of its search console, Google has provided advertisers with an inexhaustible wealth of ad inventory, and publishers with the revenue they needed to survive.

They disrupted manual media buying

There was once a time where all media transactions were carried out by mere humans – greedy, self-interested, inefficient humans. AdWords and DBM have placed this in the far, far more capable hands of programmatic.

Automated media buying is what makes digital advertising so good, and we have Google to thank for a large part of this.

They have set the standard for marketplace transparency

People take AdWords for granted, but what other advertising platform allows its user to see exactly how their money was spent, and to measure the performance of that spend with such clarity?

AdWords and DoubleClick offer an incredible level of granularity. There are still issues, with attribution, viewability, ad fraud, but these are organic to programmatic, and Google have done a stellar job of mitigating them.

Google’s open platforms have changed advertising forever. They will kill off the traditional media buying models and then the rebates, markups, backhanders and all the rest of it will disappear. On that basis it’s no surprise the big media agencies are rounding on Google – they are a threat to their business model.

Either way, Brainlabs will not be pulling any spend off Google. Peace out from the media agency of the future.

PS, This wasn’t meant to be a love letter (I’m not afraid to speak up when they get it wrong, just wanted to add some balance to the current rhetoric).

Daniel Gilbert is the chief executive officer of Brainlabs.