The Search & Branding Tug-Of-War, Again

Cannes Lions Diary: Search under scrutiny” from the Financial Times at the
Cannes Lions Advertising Festival covers what we’ve seen before, traditional ad
buyers worried that search is going to rob their budgets while search engines
planning to do that theft try to distract with a “search is a brand thing”

First, let’s do the sound bites out of the event. Here’s what Laura Desmond,
chief executive of Mediavest USA (which the FT says “advises clients such as
P&G, Masterfoods and Kraft on buying and planning media”) is quoted as

Google is going to have to change its business model soon. Search alone
isn’t where marketing is today. It is about search and branding and putting
the two together.

As for the search engines, we have:

Damian Burns, head of European agency relations at Google, said: “There is
a need for self-education among agencies and clients. But I don?t believe that
you can have people being exposed to brands on search results day after day
without that having an impact on brand building.”

During one conference event, campaigns by IBM and an onscreen prompt by
Donald Trump, presenter of ?The Apprentice?, the US reality show, for viewers
to investigate a new coffee product online, were cited as examples of pairing
television and search. In both cases, online searches for keywords related to
the campaigns rose sharply after relevant keywords were used onscreen.

Speakers said marketers would in future have to time their spend on search
engine keywords to coincide with television or press campaigns to get the best

OK, let’s go back to Desmond. First, is Google in trouble for only doing
search? Actually, the company does more than search. All those ads across the
web, the contextually placed ones through AdSense, those aren’t search.
Moreover, some of those placements are image and video ads sold on a
brand-building friendly CPM basis.

Now let’s say Google really did only have search ads. Why would it be in
trouble for failing to put search and branding together? I mean, search
marketers haven’t depending on branding value for their stunning success over
the past 10 years. What, today suddenly you need to have a brand component?

Search marketing is a fundamental advertising activity that stands alone from
others, as I’ve been stressing in
keynote speeches recently.
It works because it gets your message in front of people who are overtly
expressing a need, often without any exposure at all to brand advertising that tries to
build that need.

Saying search must address branding is like saying that direct
marketing address branding. You don’t need to have a brand lift for direct
marketing to be successful. Neither do you need a brand lift with search.

Having said this, search certainly can help with branding. Scott Karp
over at Publishing 2.0 has taken a fairly anti-branding stance in his

Search Advertising Does NOT Build Brands
post, and here’s some of my
counter-response to him in the comments:

What do you think made Zappos a brand name when it comes to buying shoes
online? Those magazine ads you saw for them? That TV spot? Wait ? I don’t
think they do that stuff. What they do is a lot of spending to show up in
search engines when you search for ?shoes? and related terms. You did a
generic search, you keep seeing a particular provider, and you learn about
that brand.

Hey, need an espresso machine? I learned an entire new brand,
Whole Latte Love, simply because when I was doing searches, I kept coming
across their site. J&Rs in New York? If you?re in Manhattan, you know that
brand as well as I knew Fry?s living in California. But J&R was a mystery to
me until I kept seeing them in some shopping search results before making a
trip to New York. Now that brand is rooted in my mind, not because I saw some
offline ad but because I saw them first in search. That brand did build in my
mind, to me.

I’ve done panel after panel on the intersection of search and branding at our
SES conferences. We have
coming up for our
San Jose show this August
. Actual advertisers and brand holders continue to
say there’s a brand value in search. They don’t say they’ll build brand only
with search. Nor do they say they want all the branding money to come away from
other venues like TV and solely support search. In fact, they want TV ads to
keep going — those help fuel the searches they buy.

Instead, the real pushing point is that they want more of the ad spend.
They have a type of advertising that converts incredibly well and, in my
opinion, is incredibly undervalued still. If the ad spend pie isn’t getting
bigger, then it has to come from the traditional space — a space itself which
has to be feeling more pressure given the relatively poor metrics it can

As for the search engines, they’ve been pimping brand value to traditional
advertisers to woo spending since Overture’s big study way back in 2001 (see
and here).
There is brand value with search ads, of course — but if they really wanted
to help establish search as a serious fundamental marketing activity, then how
about leaning on the Cannes Lions festival to recognize that with awards just
for search. Here are
this year’s awards. Search isn’t a category, not even within the
area which
recognize things like email marketing.

For more on these issues, here’s some selected reading:

Want more? We’ve got plenty. Check out our

Search Ads: Branding
Tips: Branding
categories, if you are a Search Engine Watch

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