Using Display Ads to Drive Search Marketing: Virtuous or Greedy?


This morning at the Search Insider Summit I heard a phrase a few times that struck me as odd – the first 2 times, I missed it, the 3rd time I caught it and the 4th time I GOT IT. And what I got worries me. In fact, talking about this briefly with Bill Flitter and Lee Odden, some of my concerns were alleviated, but my broader concern for this approach, and specifically the intention behind it, remains.

Specifically the issue is that I am afraid some Search Marketers are using this technique of integrating search into display ads and broader marketing activities (such as on product packaging) merely to seize a greater portion of the overall advertising spending. Certainly, I am not arguing with the effectiveness of search marketing over traditional advertising, but I am pointing out that an emphasis on using one form of marketing/advertising to drive people through another point of advertising rather than direct to the marketer has all sorts of upside for those taking the dollars and potentially circumspect value for those spending the dollars.

Let me illustrate through one case study which was mentioned regarding Hellman’s mayonaise and the “Real Foods” campaign. I think it was an excellent campaign executed with good intentions in conjunction with Yahoo. They have connected it with some smart social media content, using a blog and community site around the concept of “In Search of Real Foods” and connecting it with a contest to award travel to some cool restaurants around the country. Really, really great integrated campaign – an exemplary case study displaying the sort of holistic strategy that I would recommend to my clients.

Yahoo! is clearly providing real value here, but the side effects are interesting to note. Look at the search results on Yahoo! and on Google and on MSN Live for “Real Food”. Of course, the increase in awareness on the idea of searching for the term ‘real food’ is increasing the overall search volume around this term – meaning sites like AOL, Amazon, Target and even an “Amazing New Health Drink” are buying the term – naturally, the Hellman’s competitor Kraft Foods is also buying this term. So the use of this strategy, while implemented well on Yahoo! is requiring Hellman’s to spend a lot more money across all of the search engines to maintain a number one result. Of course, this is already happening to a degree in regards to the brand and product names, but this angle has me questioning the broader impact this strategy across the entire marketing communications mix.

Perhaps what this approach is really doing is merely ensuring the value of the display ads is being driven through a measurable funnel, and the cost of being able to make the conversion of interest to intention to transaction is a worthwhile allocation (or reallocation) of dollars. Perhaps this is just the natural consequence of “owning a part of the language” for mind share. There are clear parallels here to the rise in importance of tagging relative to search, but perhaps we have just not seen tag based marketing mature to the point of encountering this issue widely yet.

It clearly costs more money to use display ads to drive more people through search marketing. The question to be determined is whether the intentions behind advocating for this strategic approach is driven by the virtuous idea of increasing effectiveness and the efficient use of dollars, or is it just a greedy land grab trying to increase the overall dollars captured by search marketing? Perhaps it is both…

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