More than YouTube: inside Google’s pitch to advertisers in Cannes and beyond

Google returns to Cannes next week

Brand safety appeasements aside, Google’s game plan for Cannes is all about diversity and integration: as a theme on seaside panels, as an approach to industry relations and, most importantly, within its product offering as it looks to fend off competition from other platforms.

It’s all in the name. For only the second time since 2015, Google’s activation on La Croisette during Cannes Lions will be named the Google Beach and not the YouTube Beach.

Cynics may say it’s because YouTube is still the problematic cash cow of the Alphabet firm, one that rakes in ad dollars but continually gives its PR team a headache with a never-ending stream of brand safety issues. But the more likely reason is that Google is looking to unleash, spotlight and bundle together all aspects of its business as Amazon shimmies ever closer towards its clients.

Pitch list products

For Tara Walpert Levy, Google’s vice-president of agency and brand solutions, the last year has been about helping advertisers and marketers with “discovery and anticipation”.

Her conversations with clients have been shaped around the wider industry narrative – YouTube is now posed as the dominant form of over-the-top TV, for instance, rather than a clickbait library of viral content. But they’ve also widened as the company’s ad product portfolio has done the same.

Google will be pushing its new Discovery Ads format at home and at Cannes, highlighting “really visually rich mobile-first ad experiences that tap into the intentions of people wherever they are”. It will also have conversations pertaining to Showcase Shopping ads, which were described at Google’s Marketing Live summit last month as “a highly visual ad format [incorporating] rich lifestyle imagery”.

The sale of these formats into brands and agencies is somewhat cyclical; both these examples play into what marketers tell Google they want and need.

Discovery Ads are built with machine learning, and thus fall under the category of “automated tools ... that take out a lot of the manual work and let [agencies] free up time to do more of the strategic work around customer insights, new innovations and new ways to go to market,” according to Levy.

Meanwhile, a greater focus on shopping plays into the trend of agencies – usually under a holding company model – moving into the e-commerce space. WPP, Dentsu Aegis Network and IPG have all recently set up new consultative shops to help clients get to grips with the big retailers, namely Amazon.

Google's building of a stronger product in this arena, despite not having anything to sell, should, in theory, allow it to take slices from advertisers’ separate advertising and e-commerce pies simultaneously.

“Beyond shopping, we’re seeing a lot of movement on things like platform services, programmatic specialities, higher volumes of content creation and higher levels of production that will let people really get to that personalized creative,” added Levy. “We’re even thinking about things like how you provide services for clients who are transitioning either in-house or back from in-house. It's fascinating.”

This wide-ranging, integrated offer is one marketers have started to pick up on in their conversations with the search giant this year.

"Google's pitch has shifted from a pure performance story to a more holistic approach," noted Jeremy Hull, senior vice-president of innovation at iProspect. "They want brands to move up the funnel, leveraging the integrated solutions across the Google ecosystem to drive awareness and brand affinity, in addition to the bottom of the funnel conversions.

"Another ongoing part of their pitch involves giving advertisers more advanced measurement solutions, from attribution to integration with offline activities. The tools Google has built are powerful and accurate, but many brands are still resistant to change their approach to measurement, so I expect Google to continue working to drive adoption of the excellent measurement solutions they have built."

Pitch list services

Google has invested in Levy’s team in the last several years, and as it’s grown to sell in a more complex portfolio, the way it works with agencies has changed, too. It’s developed new capabilities to support agencies on specific pain points, such as mobile creative and measurement attribution, for instance, and has even started placing staff within the agencies.

“Similarly, we do rotations for folks from agencies through our organization and operation,” Levy said. “That just gives them a great feeling for all the solutions that are out there.

“I think the difference between today and four or five years ago is we've gone from being arm’s length collaborators to truly in-depth partners. I think that is represented by our physical presence in each other's space, the kinds of information sharing that we're doing and the wide range of partnership areas that we're focused on.”

This sense of partnership and openness is reflected in Google’s attitude to Cannes Lions itself. Unlike the Facebook beach, notorious for its “you’re not the list” ambience, the platform’s own patch of sand is open to pretty much anyone who wants to meet, work or, in this year’s case, “use Google Translate to order your choice of ice cream”.

Its own conference programming will be more focused this year, concentrating primarily on diversity and inclusion, personalization and the future of marketing. And Hull predicts much of Google's on-beach pitch will be based outside the realm of search advertising.

"I expect Google to heavily focus on YouTube video ads, which over the past few years have matured to offer a pretty spectacular variety of formats, targeting options, and optimization settings," he said ."Sight, sound, and motion are more exciting than text, to be sure, but individuals and groups at Google have been applying machine learning to large swaths of video ads in order to extract fantastic learnings, bringing the insights and measurability of digital fully into the realm of video."

The real conversations will take place offstage, however, and may even veer into territory beyond advertising altogether.

Behind meeting room doors

One senior media strategist predicts Google will be pitching its Cloud product as a “bundle’ along with Marketing Platform, in a bid to drum up interest in an alternative to Amazon Web Services.

“I think they've recognized that working with media to get to IT – reversing what other folks do – is a path that is relatively untrodden and can bring interesting potential synergies and leverage that they didn't have before,” they said. “It used to be the Google media and technology teams coming together to talk to us – now it's going in the other direction with the Google technology and the Google Cloud team coming to us to talk about joint opportunities."

They noted, however that as a Cloud-based infrastructure isn’t exactly Cannes-friendly “cocktail conversation” (“advertisers literally would rather watch paint dry”), Google will likely use its smaller but still significant YouTube presence to illuminate advertisers about its ambitions to compete in traditional TV – another place it can challenge Amazon, which is concurrently gearing up compete in the programmatic space with Sizmek.

“I think [Google] will place a stake in the ground and say, look you’ve been doing TV the same way for ages – we're going to bring that Google way of thinking to the TV world and you should expect massive disruption,” they predicted.

“The leverage Amazon has over the broader ecosystem is a much bigger existential problem [for Google than Facebook] because they don't want to be put back in the box of just Search or YouTube. They want to be thinking about the data advantage they have over the entire ecosystem.”

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