Performance Max: A Backwards Step for Digital Advertising

Opacity and secrecy are nothing new in the Digital Marketing industry. Whether relating to methods, costs, performance measurement or man other areas, we operate in world where businesses like to use the cloak of mystery to maximise profits. Google is sending the industry back into this murky world with their Performance Max campaigns.

When I first started out in PPC, we didn’t disclose true costs or advertising, that was our IP. We told our clients to focus on performance and the cost and (our) margins were ours to manage. Google forced the industries hand on this by publicly announcing the end to agency rebates, and allowing clients to gain ownership of Ad accounts promoting their business. All of a sudden the curtain was pulled and revealed the true cost of Google Ads and the margins being made.

When I moved into Programmatic Display I chuckled to myself that the same methods that had been managed out of PPC were prevalent there still, and even facilitated by the tech providers such as Google. Manually applied, large margins being added to advertising costs by agencies unbeknownst to the client and masked in reports and business structures.

Over both these cases, and in many other areas I could list, transparency eventually comes. And typically it is the advertisers themselves that benefit. Over time this leads to greater understanding on performance, greater control of their advertising, and better decision making for the business. But somebody loses out. Typically an agency or technology provider.

And despite the fact it was Google that initiated the move to transparency in PPC with their disclosure of changes and desire to deal directly with advertisers, it seems they have decided full disclosure was not in their best interests after all. Performance Max, their latest campaign type aimed at dumbing down the PPC process, removes all transparency that the industry has been moving towards. Asking its advertisers to simply “trust the platform” to deliver them results and not worry about where they come from.

Much akin to the Criteo’s of the world, advertisers have to be comfortable with reporting results without any visibility on how or where they were delivered. Some digital marketers and advertisers are happy with that (we are a results driven business after all) but it seems like such a backward step to the direction of travel digital advertising has been headed in for some time.

History tells us that “trusting the technology” rarely ends well. Whether that adverts appearing on porn and hate websites, serious allegations of fraud, or simply just the incentive to chase the last click at all odds, there are not many outcomes which look favourable to brands. It doesn’t take a genius to come to the conclusion that this is the latest in Google’s attempts to monetise the poorer quality areas of its network, and also take control of tactics such as brand bidding which many companies have moved away from.

With their sales machine behind them, and enough advertisers who are only interested in reporting some top level results, I have no doubt the Performance Max will be a success for Google. Certainly when they view it through their internal lens of monetising underutilised channels and driving up advertiser spend. It is a backwards step for digital advertising as an industry, and one which history has proven is unlikely to end well.



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