Google Endorsements: Industry reaction from DigitasLBi, Havas, MEC, iProspect and more

This weekend Google announced its latest advertising platform - Shared Endorsements. Similar to the soon-to-be defunct Sponsored Stories option on Facebook, Google's Shared Endorsements will pull in users’ names and profile pictures in adverts, ranging from Google Play store recommendations to adverts for restaurants.

Following the announcement The Drum asked a cross section of marketers what the introduction of Shared Endorsements could mean for advertisers and what lessons Google could learn from Facebook's mistakes.

Amy Kean, Havas Media, head of futures

Slowly but surely we're edging into a world where owned and earned are the most dominant, authentic media forces, and Google's Shared Endorsements is yet another reason why having a social-first strategy will be important for every brand over the next few years. What it means for marketers - very simply - is that they need to get a move on working out who the right influencers are, and creating the kind of content and product that generates positive reviews and great word of mouth. It also means the full suite of Google services across search, display and social will need their own line on every media plan moving forward, if it didn't already.But as always, what offers huge potential for marketers may not always offer the same incentives for consumers - the official Google statement reassures in the sense that users can easily opt-out of this service, but I'd love to see a bit more education of the general public. For most internet users, Google is synonymous with ‘the internet’, so to see it change from a natural space presenting factual, informative search results to a social space featuring friends and families' recommendations will require a change of mindset and usage. Do I always want to know what a distant Google + contact’s favourite tapas restaurant is, when I'd rather just discover one for myself? If people are publicly handing over their data, it needs to be clear what the value exchange is, and as such, Google needs to be careful not to fall into the privacy trap that Facebook fell into, and must take steps to hand-hold their users through its social evolution.

David Towers, MEC, director of search and digital projects, EMEA

We expected 2014 would be an important year in terms of the growth of opportunities in ad formats and extensions area given the announcement that Google made (in September 2013) that ad formats and extensions are now part of the Ad Rank formula (which informs the price an advertiser pays for a click and where the ad shows). Shared Endorsements are a great example of Google using its wealth of social data to help drive another new ad extension which we are confident will help drive higher CTRs for advertisers and in turn more revenue for Google. From a Google and advertiser perspective, this is a win-win scenario, and it could be argued that if more users are clicking on the ads, these ads are more relevant, so they are better for users also. While some may feel this move takes advantage of users’ privacy, it is not the first time Google has used social data within reviews as they first did this in 2011 with the social extension ads where users could +1 ads. As 2014 progresses we will see more ad formats and we expect to see Google leveraging its wealth of social data to make these ads as relevant and impactful as possible.

Jeremy McDonald, iProspect, lead SEO strategist

From a marketing perspective, Google’s decision to roll out Shared Endorsements raises three key points: They are very similar to Facebook Sponsored Stories, which despite its significant success has been discontinued. From an e-commerce perspective there is very little that increases your conversion rate more than a Facebook friend liking a page or a product. With Shared Endorsements, Google is using this user-centric model to ultimately drive advertising revenues. Increased influence of Paid Adverts – Like many of Google’s products, I anticipate this will make its debut as a paid-only feature, similar to the way seller reviews have functioned. This will bring the focus more on PPC as the ads will become more engaging. Another tangible push for social media marketing on Google+ - Google has been relentless in its core desire to increase the popularity of G+. This is the first push that gives social media marketing on G+ real monetary value, as increased CTRs and visits will follow people who embrace this change.

Andrew Girdwood, DigitasLBi, media innovations director

Shared Endorsements will be controversial but they will show marketers some of the value in Google+. Google’s plan will be controversial because pretty much any innovation that involves either photos or Google+ is and with this initiative we have both those firecrackers in a single teacup. Marketers will get a better idea of Google+’s value because they’ll be to see the word-of-mouth effect of the platform. Recently, some of the brands I have spoken to have had the feeling that they should be doing more with Google+ but have wondered whether it worth the effort. For example, should they bother to find a Google+ influencer for an outreach campaign? Brands should. With Shared Endorsements in place brands will get even more return from the same amount of effort. We only need to look at how enthusiastically brands have adopted Social Extensions for AdWords. Peer reviews matter.

Ashwin Khanchandani, OMD, head of paid search and social advertising

At OMD UK, we have seen Social Annotations have a positive impact on the click through rates of our client’s paid search activity – this is also something Google have talked about at an aggregate level. It is therefore a logical step for them to add these across a wider range of products with Shared Endorsements.This step shows Google’s increased confidence in Google+ because they now have enough social data to leverage it more widely. It also potentially takes Google a step further down the path of Google+ data having a direct influence on rankings affecting future SEO efforts.Shared Endorsements draw more attention to Google+ as a platform that marketers and brands should take seriously. There will continue to be benefits for paid media. On top of this, they open up a new set of opportunities for Google’s huge scale to be tapped into via earned media. That can only be achieved by creating genuinely engaging content and hosting it on Google+.

Dan Todaro, Gekko, MD

It’s no surprise that Facebook’s Sponsored Stories didn’t meet with vast amounts of success. So how can Google’s Shared Endorsements avoid that trap? The trick is to offer consumers exactly what they want. No-one likes to be bombarded with messages that are completely irrelevant to their tastes and buying behaviours. Think how frustrating it would be to be marketed a beer ad if you only drink wine. Nonetheless, the potential this offers to marketers is huge, with a massive, global audience who will potentially see their ad. Therein lies its key factor – its reach. Google’s audience is so vast that it outstrips all other forms of advertising. What brands must ensure, however, is that the content that they are putting in front of people actually appeals to them. After all, a targeted campaign will always be more effective than a blanket approach.

Ian Stockley, Indicia, MD

Driven by the mass adoption of social media, individuals have moved from a passive role of listening, to a state of active engagement with brands; filtering, rating and selecting messages within their networks. Consumers are increasingly searching and digesting advice, recommendations and endorsement from peer groups and online communities, long before an ad or a mail pack has intruded their space as part of some carefully ordered campaign plan. The launch of ‘Shared Endorsements’ is therefore terrific news for marketers in this customer-dominated world. If the product is right, the service adds value and the brand delivers consistently for the customer. Essentially, the customer now has the means and motivation to become your best advocate, and therefore advertiser

Omaid Hiwaizi, Geometry Global UK, chief strategy officer

Google’s introduction of Shared Endorsements this week is a clear signal of its intent to ramp up social brand engagement. When it comes to delivering precise, timely content via search advertising, Google is undeniably the leader. But many questions have been asked about how well Google+ is, or isn’t, working. This move is an indicator that, rather than focusing on building a competitive social platform, the web giant is looking to make its core platform social. With its broader reaching One Account and Google Wallet, the level of personalised insight that Google will be able to offer brands using Shared Endorsements is much stronger than Facebook had with its Sponsored Stories launch. Social influence is often the deciding factor in the discovery, selection and purchase of a product. The depth of consumer insight underlying Google’s new offering will enable brands to more precisely target consumers with different need states, delivering the right nudges at the right time to help them along the customer journey.

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