Nick Beck
Nick Beck 26 November 2018

Google & Facebook vs Everyone Else

Everyone knows Facebook and Google are dominating the industry and that the digital duopoly isn’t the healthiest state of affairs. But there are other networks who are taking on the two digital giants and want a piece of the action.

Even with Facebook and Google under various regulatory microscopes and their secret weapon - our data - no longer such a secret, the two giants of tech and their walled gardens feel like facts of life for digital marketers. Everyone knows a digital duopoly isn’t the healthiest state of affairs, and many advertisers are nervous about inappropriate content and measurement discrepances - Unilever CMCO Keith Weed calls digital media ‘murky’. Then again, the big two have unmactchable audiences, which is why last year GroupM estimated that Facebook and Google took an estimated 84% of digital media investment outside China.

At Tug Life IV conference earlier this year, Adidas affiliate expert Jelle Oskam called Facebook and Google’s hegemony “an undesirable status quo for advertisers,” adding that “it’s pretty strange that not just Adidas but many, many brands in the world spend 50-75% of their advertising budget on just these two dominant players and they give all their data to these companies - or not just give it, they take it.”

Oskam said the situation was the inspiration for Adidas’ investment in affiliate marketing through its Odyssey scheme. “If you want to have an alternative, you have to come up with some other good ideas, and that’s true for the display industry, the affiliate industry or influencers,” he said. “You have to prove you can deliver the same quality traffic as Google or Facebook.”

Many other players are attempting to do just that, from fellow tech giants to old media, while regulators too are weighing their options. Are any of them muscular enough to make a dent in a dominant pair whose products wrap around so many aspects of our professional and everyday lives? And if they are, will the market necessarily be better off? We’ll see, but for the first time in a while, the two giants look just slightly vulnerable. These are the runners and riders:

Other digital giants

Amazon made more than $2bn from advertising in Q1. That’s still relatively small compared to $31bn for Google and $12bn for Facebook in the same period, but Amazon is the fastest grower and its ace card is that, unlike Google and Facebook, it knows what we end up buying. It is a search competitor to Google too; nearly half of product searches started on Amazon in 2017.  And as Martin Sorrell put it in a piece for Wired last year, “few people have made money by betting against Amazon.”

Oath, meanwhile, can now sell inventory across properties including HuffPost, AOL, Yahoo, Engadget and others. And even Apple is said to have plans for a new ad platform serving app ads.

Other social networks

Snap is another relatively small ad rival that’s expected to grow fast - to more than $1bn in the US in 2018, according to eMarketer, and along with Pinterest and others it is talking to Apple about an ad network serving Apple devices. Facebook’s Instagram, too, takes a growing chunk of the ad market - $5.5bn in the US this year, eMarketer expects. Twitter, meanwhile, is looking for publishers to sign up for its Twitter Timeline ads.

Traditional publishers

Wherever you look, you see publishers building alliances to reassert the value of their content. The Guardian, The Telegraph, and News UK will be pooling their digital advertising inventory as the Ozone Project from this autumn, offering brand safety and nearly 40m readers. In Germany and Portugal, there are log-in alliances involving media owners and brands, to collect browsing data in the way Facebook and Google do. News Corp and partners launched News IQ last December to package up a US audience of 140m for advertisers, while Vox Media and NBCUniversal have Concert, which rolls together sport and entertainment publications including The Ringer, NBC Sports, Quartz, PopSugar, Rolling Stone and New York Media.


Even as representatives of Facebook troop earnestly before the Senate and the House of Commons in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, there’s still debate about what form regulation could take, as well as a recognition that we definitely need some. Do we tax them, make them share data, prevent them from buying competitors, attempt to break them up or somehow deploy them for the public good? GDPR is already forcing better data housekeeping in Europe, and within hours of the new laws taking effect, privacy campaigners had filed suits against Facebook in Austria, Belgium and Germany, and against Google in France, accusing them of “coercing” users into accepting their data collection policies.

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