SearchTHIS: ad:tech, Search and the Future

New York's Hilton at 53rd and 6th is the place to be this week for the biggest ad:tech in the history of the show. Monday morning, I along with my fantastically patient (I'll get to that in a minute) panelists embarked on a journey of light and sound while attempting to draw some level of conclusion on the future ad models in search.

I was joined by John Battelle, chairman and publisher of Federated Media and author of "The Search," which is rapidly becoming the book on all things search, Martin Laetsch, manager, worldwide search, Intel Corporation, David Jakubowski, general manager, MSN search strategy and go-to-market and Ron Belanger, director worldwide advertiser strategy, Yahoo! Search Marketing. The panelists, hereafter to be known as saints, each had a unique contribution to a discussion that took a bit of coaxing to get moving.

Forthcoming search advertising models, as Mr. Battelle noted, will not look anything like what we refer to, and think of as, search today. As we discovered, a discussion on the future ad models in will inevitably turn into a privacy debate.

Train wreck

Before I begin, let me thank my panel for not leaving me on the stage. In my tenure as a speaker at industry events spanning several years and a few countries, I had yet to really experience an embarrassing audio/visual disaster. Well ladies and gentleman, my name has now been entered into the A/V book of shame. Preparation is my life. The world as I know it is littered with outlines, agendas and action items. But sometimes no amount of preparation can help.

Everything that could possibly have gone wrong did go wrong. Topping the list were stage lights burning so bright that we all may have permanent cornea damage; then the laptop connection decided not to work, so the idea of establishing our discussion tone visually was impossible. I know it's my fault for using this cryptic and relatively unknown operating system called Windows and purchasing a computer from that mysterious upstart computer manufacturer, Dell.

Miraculously, we managed to pull some great discussion out of the fire, and I would like to thank my saintly panel for saving our discussion from disaster and our extremely patient audience for hanging in there with us.

Google me this

It shouldn't matter what Google does with their ads… so long as the received value, which advertisers can measure, is higher than the price they pay, according to Google CEO, Eric Schmidt as quoted The New York Times, October 30, 2005.

I know it shouldn't matter, but does it?

Consumers are preoccupied with complaining about how much information is being gathered about them. The general idea of search as a directional experience for consumers is an interesting concept, but a short lived one, and future models will require advanced methods of understanding consumer behavior, an area that Google is pioneering.

While Google was noticeably absent from the future think panel discussion, they are clearly still the 600 pound Gorilla in the space. Google has been experiencing a bit of negative feedback on features such as auto link and other data collecting devices, but as Intel's Martin Laetsch noted, Google is an easy target and is being unfairly criticized.

MSN's rich experience

Target me with whatever you like as long as you think I might like it. Mr. Jakubowski's expert representation of Microsoft's new targeting capabilities provided audience members with an exciting look into the MSN's new AdCenter, which allows advertisers to target searchers with demographic criteria, along with other key profile information from MSN's vast databank of registered users.

Though AdCenter was only recently introduced in the United States, advertisers are already using the information to reach out to users increasingly creative ways, according to Jakubowski. AdCenter's Targeting center allows advertisers to buy keyword advertising in specific geographic locations, target by day of week and time of day (daypart targeting), gender and age groups (demographic targeting).

According to MSN, AdCenter's Keyword Research Tool provides advertisers a greater ability to choose the most relevant keywords and to reach their target audience by providing a profile of who clicks on specific keywords. These profiles include number of search queries on a particular keyword, traffic information, demographic (age and gender) data, as well as geographic location and a lifestyle and wealth index.

Yahoo! reinvents technology

Yahoo! announced Tuesday a new partnership with TIVO that allows users to program their television viewing from the web. Not to be left out of the advanced targeting method party, Yahoo! is integrating tried and true methods of monitoring user's behavior -- such as the Buzz Index -- with new technologies merging the online experience with a more traditional video experience.

In order to accommodate greater demand for integrated offerings, Yahoo!'s brand advertising and search marketing sales forces are now aligned under one sales organization. Yahoo! also provided a sharp overview of technologies that are designed to enhance and enrich the search experience:

Yahoo! Video Search allows consumers to access all types of online video, including news footage, movie trailers, television programs and independently-produced video.
Yahoo! Audio Search Beta enables users to easily find podcasts, music downloads through music services, music videos, albums, artist bios and other related music information from a variety of sources, including Yahoo! Music Unlimited, Yahoo! Video and Image Search, and the web.
Y!Q Beta analyzes the content of a web page and provides consumers with contextually relevant search results at the moment of search inspiration.
Yahoo! Search Subscriptions Beta enables users to search multiple online subscription content sources and the web from a single search engine.

Apathetic futurethink

Drink the Kool-Aid if you must, but consider the following: like it or not, providers are gathering all kinds of information on users to help find better ways to interact with you. As one audience member was quick to point out after the session, supermarkets, credit bureaus and direct marketers have been collecting personal information since the dawn of databases.

When I asked yesterday's audience how many people were concerned about data collection, half raised their hands. When I asked how many people didn't care, the other half raised their hands. One audience member suggested that I neglected to ask one important question in my informal survey: of the people that are concerned about data collection -- how many are concerned enough to do something about it?

My guess is this: an outspoken minority will continue to make data collection an issue for search technology providers and online marketers in the future. Many of those who would make their concerns known about data collection somehow don't mind that much deeper information is being collected on them via offline channels.

One thing is certain: the balancing act of privacy and targeting will be with us for some time.

iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.
Kevin Ryan is Managing Partner at Kinetic Results