Google stands by decision to end tablet-based ad campaigns

Google is overhauling its flagship AdWords service in an effort to raise mobile ad sales and to simplify advertising campaigns. Some advertisers complain that the changes mean a loss of control, in part because the new “Enhanced Campaigns” mean they can no longer create search ad campaigns aimed specifically at iPad and other tablet users.

Google’s Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora, however, indicated at the Dive into Media conference in southern California that the company has no intention of changing course. Arora brushed off a question I posed about whether Google would reinstate the more granular ad options, and emphasized that the new AdWords system meant advertisers would no longer have to run hundreds of different ad campaigns to target all demographics and devices.

The changes to AdWords are important since Google has such an out-sized footprint in online advertising and because everyone is watching how the company is responding to internet users’ large-scale migration to mobile devices. So far, ads on smaller screens have proved much less lucrative than desktop ads — frustrating publishers and worrying Google investors.

Google announced its response last week in the form of a blog post describing the new “Enhanced Campaigns.” The new system means mobile ad purchases will be a default option when people sign up to buy Google AdWords (though they can turn the mobile part off). Another major change is Google’s decision to treat tablets and desktops as the same device for ad purposes. This goes against the philosophy of advertisers and publishers who consider the experience tablet a distinct, more immersive experience (though the distinction may be less when, as here, it concerns internet searching).

Ad industry blogs like 360i and AdExchanger have noted that Google is moving away from more granular forms of marketing while advertisers have complained about a loss of control.

On the flip side, some Google watchers have praised Enhanced Campaigns as a much-needed way to consolidate ad campaigns, and to make it easier for small ad buyers to join the mobile ad-buying landscape. At the All Things D event, Arora described how Google is also making it easier for advertisers to take advantage of distinct, new ad options associated with mobile — such as overlaying time and geographic location onto search queries.

In this context, the simplified options make sense, especially as advertisers right now confront the prospect of having to run hundreds of separate AdWords campaigns to account for all demographics and devices. And the Enhanced Campaigns will no doubt juice Google’s ad prices as more people join the mobile auction market, creating more competition for local searches such as “pizza Brooklyn Park Slope.” 

But overall, the new system still seems to shortchange publishers and advertisers. Tablets provide a unique user experience and could be a fount of advertising innovation; Google’s decision eliminates some of this potential. A better option would have been to unveil the Enhanced Campaign system but to also make the older, more granular options available to those who ask for it.

(Note: We’re going to be talking about alternative monetization strategies at our paidContent Live conference in New York on April 17).

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