TubeMogul CEO: Google's "walled garden approach" is about marketshare, not advertiser interests

CEO of programmatic ad technology vendor explains why it's on a crusade against Google's digital advertising practices and ad fraud generally

Google and YouTube’s “walled garden” approach to digital advertising is more about gaining marketshare and power than helping brand marketers reach consumers in the most relevant, effective way, according to the chief of TubeMogul.

The programmatic ad tech vendor has kicked off a crusade against the online search giant with an ad campaign in the US that seeks to shine a light on Google’s anti-competitive practices. The initiative features the hashtag, #independencematters.

Speaking to CMO during a recent visit to Sydney, TubeMogul CEO, Brett Wilson, said the vendor’s motivation was to make sure advertisers understand that when they work with Google, it isn’t always in their best interests.

“We wanted to create a conversation and dialogue about what the future of advertising may be,” he said. “There was a steady drumbeat of egregious moves coming out of Google and we felt like we had to stand up for advertisers and do something about it.

“We want to paint a stark contrast between working with Google, which is a media owner that also sells advertising that helps advertisers evaluate their media decisions, and a company that’s agnostic and independent. We want to make it clear that when advertisers spend money in the Google ecosystem, they’re just spending money on making those walled gardens even higher and helping Google create more market power.”

Since commencing the campaign, Wilson claimed the vendor had received significant support from advertisers.

“Many have been reaching out to us telling us this is great, you’re saying what everyone else is thinking, thanks for being courageous,”he said.

“I realise that from the outside, this can seem like a self-serving thing. But when you go through the things Google has done, it’s unbelievable people aren’t talking about it more.”

For example, Wilson pointed to Google and YouTube’s practices of blocking third-party reporting for viewability, verification and fraud.

“You have no idea when you’re doing a YouTube or Google buy if it’s fraudulent or not, you have to take their word for it,” Wilson said. “They limit an advertiser’s use of their own first-party data unless you use Google’s data management platform, and advertisers are restricted to buying YouTube inventory from their software.”

In its campaign, TubeMogul also points out Google’s approach to limiting inventory sources like social networks and private inventory restricts cross-channel campaigns, retargeting and frequency capping and makes any of these activities outside of its networks difficult.

“The excuse given is always about consumer or publisher reason but in reality, all these moves are about giving them more market power, which in effect gives advertisers less power themselves,” Wilson said.

For Wilson, one of the benefits of programmatic advertising technology is that it allows advertisers to be smarter about how they use their own customer data.

“When you either can’t use your data, or use it in a way that compromises your customers’ data, that’s a real problem for brands,” he continued. “As this issue becomes more clear, you’ll see more advertisers talking about the walled gardens of Google as well.”

To help overcome these potential issues, Wilson advised advertisers to ask providers if they can use their own data or not.

“They need to ask about data ownership and who owns the intellectual property of their ad campaigns: Is it them or agencies, and how does that work?” he said. “They also need to ask if they can bring in their own deals with publisher – what we call programmatic direct.”

Transparency in digital advertising is a wider focus for TubeMogul and has seen the vendor kick off a new initiative refunding advertisers subject to botnet fraud. Known as the Non-Human Traffic Credit Program, the anti-fraud effort is being powered by a partnership with ad fraud detection company, White Ops, and will see the latter’s verification technology rolled out across every video ad bought through TubeMogul’s OpenRTB platform.

The service is available to all clients who have a ‘masters service agreement’ with TubeMogul and kicks off on 1 April.

“This announcement was about helping protect advertisers as a matter of policy so they don’t have to worry about botnet ad fraud at all,” Wilson explained. “We are proactively refunding any and every client for every fraudulent activity. We think it’s the right thing to do, it’s the first time it has been done that we know of, and we hope the industry follows quickly.

“Advertisers deserve to know exactly where their dollars are going. We have pushed the industry towards being more transparent, not just in terms of fraud but also fees – who is taking a slice of the dollars along the way. And in terms of performance, it’s about what is actually happening with your campaigns.”

Wilson said the onus for stopping fraud shouldn’t be on advertisers, but on tech vendors and publishers.

“There is a lot of talk in the industry about botnet fraud. We got tired of just hearing people talk and wanted to do something about it,” he said.

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