Has Google Gone Too Far?

Has Google Gone Too Far?
By Mark Cameron

When we look back at 2013, we may conclude that this was the year Google went too far, when greed trumped its original mission of “don’t be evil.”

The search giant recently announced it has changed the terms and conditions for Google+ so it can sell the names and faces of users to advertisers. As reported in the New York Times, “…When the new ad policy goes live on Nov. 11, Google will be able to show what the company calls ‘shared endorsements’ on Google sites and across the Web … If a user follows a bakery on Google Plus or gives an album four stars on the Google Play music service, for instance, that person’s name, photo and endorsement could show up in ads for that bakery or album…”

The idea behind this move by Google is to add social context to Google promotions. If you see that a friend likes something, you are more likely to do the same. Google is offering advertisers a way of generating “trusted” product endorsements and word-of-mouth marketing. It sounds like magic to many marketers who have increasingly been under pressure to prove results in recent years.

But a bit more thought about this latest Google offering suggests that it is filled with potential risks for brands. How companies collect and use customer data is becoming central to how their brand is perceived by consumers. The current fixation on using consumer data to provide better ad targeting has generated a spike in short term results for marketers—and spurred additional investment into the technology and techniques that drive it. But for the average consumer, it is becoming downright creepy. Once they get over the novelty, data driven ads will be viewed as nothing more than slightly smarter spam.

Marketing online has become distracted by the quick conversion—at the expense of brands building trust with their customers. As renowned technology commentator, academic and author Doc Searls said on his blog, “…The problem is that direct marketing has body-snatched advertising … In reality, advertising has become ineffective because it is no longer advertising, at least in the digital world. It is direct marketing, calling itself advertising…”

Marketers are now acting like they are at war with their customers, the very people with whom they are meant to be developing a relationship. They are constantly looking for the next way to get people to click their ad. Consumers, on the other hand, are increasingly ignoring the messages altogether. Indeed, the marketers’ focus on “better targeting” is eroding consumers’ trust in brands.

This has to change. Marketers need to refocus their attention on developing long term relationships with customers. That involves thinking about how they can use the consumer data they have to create wonderful customer experiences that will develop over time. Simply put, online marketing needs to become creative. People are prepared to have a relationship with your brand. But that relationship needs to be planned for and implemented over the long term. As Peter Drucker once remarked, “long term results cannot be gained by piling short-term results on short-term results.”

Mark Cameron is CEO and lead strategist of social media conversion and commercialization agency Working Three. While his agency is based in Melbourne, Australia, he works for some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking brands. As a regular speaker and writer on social media and digital strategy, Mark stays focused on customers and outcomes, not the technology, leading to simple strategic conclusions.

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