I’ve never thought much about how many internet companies have had to go to senate or congresional hearings to defend the basic principles of the way we do business – championing our ability to progress marketing without violating consumer privacy or creating unfair business practices. Albeit some walk a fine line, the vast majority of digital marketing efforts do not infringe on either.
In fact, the agency I founded, Mass Transit Interactive, was Doubleclick’s interactive agency back in what we like to refer to as the “hey day” (some like to refer to the hey day as “before the early dot com bubble burst”, but I digress). I don’t know how many times I was asked “Don’t you compete with Doubleclick?”. “No” (and duh!), I never understood how seemingly smart people misunderstood Doubleclick’s positioning in the industry. When Doubleclick acquired Abacus (for around $1 billion), they became the first entity to append and merge on and offline consumer profiles and other data. We executed significant campaigns to build what was one of the largest online consumer databases at the time. A lot of money was invested before pressures from consumer privacy and advocacy groups shut down the programs. The practice is fairly common nowadays, but back then Doubleclick’s effort became a martyr for the cause. I remember the full page WSJ ads apologizing to the business community and promising not to do anything with the acquired data until the industry was ready for it.
The harmless approach took some time for society to accept, but there was a fairly long learning curve and evangelical education process.
So now there is a new education process that is responsible for the delay of the approval of the Doubleclick / Google deal. To throw salt on wounds, Microsoft is lobbying against the acquisition due to the claims that the deal may stifle competition. Well…isn’t that the ‘software giant who lost the biggest anti-competition case of our lifetimes and just acquired the second largest ad server next to Doubleclick’s’ calling the ‘market-share eroding, directly competitive new media company acquiring the largest ad sever in the market’ stifling.
Granted, I see the possible concerns. But there are a handful of major powerhouse media companies in the market – Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo are the “big 4”. They are competing for reach and consumer engagement, as well as technological advances in targeting, and process automation in order to maximize the monetization of each product. Since search marketing accounts for roughly 40% of all online media spending, it is no wonder that the big 4 are the top players.
Microsoft acquired aQuantive, which puts ownership of Atlas, Doubleclick’s main competitor in the hands of one of the big 4, it seems appropriate that the Doubleclick acquisition go through. There is absolutely nothing stifling about it. In fact, just the opposite. In theory, the new scale of consumer reach, data and targeting abilities, combined with providing streamlined reporting to agencies, can be a major benefit to advertisers and consumers alike. Similarly, AOL’s recent purchase of Tacoda, the largest behavioral targeting network, and rebranding of Platform A, also applies a techinlogical advanement that can benefit both advertisers and consumers.
On a parting note – I took a few minutes to check out the members of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights – of course I used Google to do so. Thankfully it seems like a well balanced mix of members. I don’t mean to sound agist, but convincing some of the older-school members of these committees about the competitive nature of this complex marketing and consumer ecosystem seems like an education process that may take a while. I hope I’m wrong on that one. Either way it seems like DoubleGoo is alive and kicking in spirit, even if not officially approved yet.