Google Anti-Trust Investigation

As a marketing professional, I have my Google Chrome set to alert me of trending news in the industry. This week the investigation into Google has dominated those stories. The gist of it is 50 AG’s are looking into their dominance in the digital marketing advertising world, and determining if their practices are monopolistic. Additionally, it could expand into how their advertising practices effect the personal data of consumers. And finally, the NY AG has launched a probe into Facebook with similar end goals.

As I read these articles, I am torn between two worlds – that of a marketing professional and that of a consumer. The reaction from each side is slightly different and the entire idea confuses me a little bit.

Marketing Professional Reaction:

As a company that works with a lot of Google products – Analytics, G Suite, AdSenese, Adwords, to name a few – the ease of integration of their services to our websites, tracking response to ads, serving ads on our site as an ancillary income stream and overall website analysis is something we love. Their suite of products, while dominating the industry, makes integration across multiple marketing channels simple and clean. Their customer service is top notch and honestly, having all these services consolidated in one location and one platform makes things extremely convenient. The convenience of it all is a huge plus to us as a start-up marketing firm.

Granted they own 75% of all search advertising, according to emarketer, but is this really a problem? Our biggest frustration is working with smaller partners on other products and running into complicated ways to integrate them into our business. This can be a process where you need to add additional CSS coding to a site or connecting via an app – and it doesn’t work 100% of the time. It’s a frustrating process and can take up a lot of time to fix issues that arise.

While it may be better in a capitalistic sense for an open market, this also opens the door to many problems. As of now, we have one giant firm that dominates, but makes starting up a business extremely easy. Their pricing is a bit high, we agree – but maybe the solution is not breaking up the company. The solution may be regulating how much they can charge for their services. The biggest hurdle to any start-up is the cost to get off the ground. The Government should be looking at how to make it easier and more affordable to start your own firm – not breaking up a firm that offers all the needed tools to get started, in our opinion.

Our fear as a young marketing firm is that in a more open market the potential for fraud and more expensive options will abound. It’s common to think that more choices will somehow make the “magical hand” of the market drive cheaper costs. This is simply not true. Additionally, when smaller firms see an opportunity to charge a premium for services, they will

As an example, look at healthcare. If you do not have employer based insurance, you are at the whim of the insurance companies. They can overcharge for premiums and basic services, deny coverage for any reason, and generally make insurance a luxury, instead of something we all need. The free market is supposed to regulate this – but honestly, it just inflates the cost. If one company sees that they can charge $10 for an item, another one will offer it at $15 or a little higher, if someone will pay the higher cost. It simply drives costs up by making the average cost for something higher. When only one option exists, it forces others to be competitive on pricing or to go lower – which benefits the customer more.

We believe that breaking up larger, successful firms will lead to tools that don’t cleanly integrate with each other. This is problematic for the start-up firm that needs to know that they can: A) trust the products they are using and B) know that they are working with a partner that has the reach to market their services to largest potential pool of prospects and customers.

Consumer Reaction:

One of the quotes that has been used in many articles is of a woman, who postulated the following logic: When I search for a doctor, I want the best one – not the one who paid the most for their advertising.

The comment struck me as naivete. In the example of searching for a doctor, wouldn’t you first consult your physician for a referral? When a consumer is searching for an appliance, they visit multiple sites, read reviews, maybe read Consumer Reports and do research to find the right option(at least we do). Also, the comment implies that they know the top search results are generally those who pay the most – so is there really any confusion at all? Or is it just a consumer looking for over protection?

The privacy issue is one that always confounds me. In a digital age, where every action online is tracked via cookies, I am amazed consumers are still surprised by it. Almost every site notifies you that cookies will be collected and give you an option to opt-out. Every online survey gives you an option to opt-out of having your information shared with 3rd party advertisers. The protection is already in place, but it seems that some are, dare i say, too lazy to read the fine print.

As a consumer, I know that anything I post or search is being tracked. The saying that once you post something, you can never take it back is an axiom of truth in 2019. Consumers need to know and be aware of the ways to protect their data, and companies collecting need to enforce the regulations and treat their data bases like Fort Knox.

On one hand, consumers love the ease of having targeted ads pop up for items they want, but when a breach occurs – they act like they didn’t know their data was being collected. It’s a double standard – when it works, it’s great…. when it fails, the victim card comes out.

Conclusion:

Our feeling is the investigation is looking at the wrong aspect of Google’s dominance. While they do dominate the industry, the real issue is controlling cost of services. The investigation needs to focus in on regulating and capping the amount companies like Google can charge for their services, and also the ability to raise these costs every year. This is what small businesses and consumers need. If the cost to run ads was cheaper, smaller firms could charge less for their services. This helps the consumer by making all goods, products and services more affordable for every American.

We believe that the investigation is misguided. The industries that need reforming are Health Insurance, Credit Cards & Financial firms, not marketing firms. Consumers and small businesses need protection from Interest rates that approach usury levels and easier access to funds when they want to expand or need help with a home improvement project or to get out of a bad situation. This investigation will only lead to sweeping changes to marketing practices that will not only affect Google – but every other small marketing firm trying to get off the ground, like ours.

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