CANNES, France—Advertisers have griped about the power Google and
wield over the digital ad market. But they are generally wary of breaking up the tech giants, judging by the views of the attendees at the annual advertising festival held here on the French Riviera.
The U.S. Justice Department is gearing up for a possible investigation of Google, while the Federal Trade Commission has taken jurisdiction for possible antitrust probes of Facebook and
The Wall Street Journal has reported. It is unclear what outcome the government would seek, if it did pursue such investigations.
Some major advertisers say splitting up
Google and Facebook into smaller companies could work against their interests. The technology giants have allowed them to reach huge audiences and target them efficiently.
“I cannot walk away from scale, as a brand that needs mass marketing,” said Raja Rajamannar,
chief marketing officer.
“Look at what Facebook and Google do for me—they have pretty sophisticated tools and consumers’ demographic information and location,” and they can help advertisers reach a swath of the population, said a top marketing executive at a quick-service restaurant.
Those sentiments explain why the two tech titans accounted for 58% of the U.S. digital ad spending in 2018, according to eMarketer.
The advertisers’ views stand in contrast to those of many publishers. Many media executives would rejoice if U.S. antitrust enforcers moved to break up Google or Facebook or take other drastic action. Their case: the “duopoly” has cornered markets like search, video and digital advertising.
That doesn’t mean advertisers don’t have deep frustrations with the companies—from their grip on user data to their repeated missteps in allowing ads to run next to offensive or hateful content. Several ad executives said if government scrutiny resulted in changes to those behaviors, that would mark an improvement.
Advertisers also would like to receive user data from the tech companies to improve what they already know about their customers, though they realize this is especially sensitive territory now as the tech companies deal with increased scrutiny over their privacy practices.
Although most marketers aren’t looking for a breakup of the tech companies, “they would welcome some regulation of the platforms,” said Michael Kassan, chief executive officer of consulting firm MediaLink. The biggest challenge for advertisers, he said, is they are “captives in the walled gardens” of Google and Facebook, unable to determine which ad on which platform was responsible for a user taking an action, such as making a purchase after seeing an ad.
More than a decade ago, Mr. Kassan helped
galvanize brands to oppose an advertising deal between Google and
which marketers believed would raise prices of search advertising. The two tech companies eventually abandoned the deal after the Justice Department said it would sue to block the agreement.
“Maybe regulation will force them to be more open,” Roger Sole,
marketing chief, said of Facebook and Google. “This is what I’m missing today.”
A spokeswoman for Facebook referred to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s comments in Cannes earlier in the week in which she said antitrust action isn’t needed to preserve consumer alternatives. Facebook has said it has added more people to ensure content is safe for users and brands.
Google declined to comment.
Megan Pagliuca, chief data officer of Hearts & Science, an ad buying firm owned by
said government intervention might pressure Google and Facebook into accepting a universal identifier for measurement that the industry would come up with, which would help advertisers get consistent measurement of how their ads perform across different platforms.
At present, Google and Facebook have different anonymized IDs for users, which makes it hard for a brand to compare how its ads perform across different platforms, Ms. Pagliuca added.
A universal ID would create a level playing field for marketers, helping them understand and compare the effect of their efforts within and across channels, said Jason Kodish, global data lead at
“This will allow for better targeting, investing and experience development,” he said.
There are some advertisers who do believe Google’s dominance of advertising technology raises serious anticompetitive concerns because it is both a seller and buyer of ads and operates leading products at every stage between advertisers and publishers.
“Google is a virtual monopoly,” said a top marketer for a global beverage company. “It quashes innovation and growth in the industry,” the person added.
Some executives pointed out that Google several years ago began steering advertisers to purchase ads on its YouTube video platform through Google’s own ad technology systems, locking out competing services that would be able to supply independent information to brands on how ads performed.
While Google and Facebook have improved their “brand-safety controls,” meant to keep ads away from objectionable content, and have given brands more third-party measurement options, there is more work to be done, advertisers said.
“The (tech) platforms are media companies, and they must make sure they have legitimate users, who must have consequences for their actions and have quality content on their platforms,” said Kieran Hannon, chief marketing officer at Openpath Inc., a Los Angeles startup that provides workplace security.
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