Yesterday, writing in the Sunday Business section of the New York Times, Roger Lowenstein criticized a newly published book called The Google Story for its starry-eyed portrayal of its subject. “The book does not so much report on Google’s progress,” wrote Lowenstein, “as cheer it on.”
These days, you don’t have to look far to find a member of the business press with Google on his lips and pompoms in his hands. In yesterday’s Times, for instance, all you had to do was turn the page.
There, you would find an article called “How Google Tamed Ads on the Wild, Wild Web,” in which writer Randall Stross heaps praise on the Internet giant with such effusiveness that we can almost imagine him doing cartwheels accompanied by a marching band.
Stross is particularly excited about a new form of online advertising that was apparently pioneered by Google. Unlike annoying pop-ups, he explains, these ads employ “just simple words which would go either at the very top of the page, above the search results or, alternatively, as the experiment evolved, at the far right. These ‘sponsored links’ had to conform to strict limits on length and aggressiveness in punctuation and phrasing.”
And so, if we believe Stross, Google has revolutionized the Internet and purged our computers of a major menace. “Today, Web advertisers by and large have put down their weapons and sworn off violence,” Stross writes. “This is a remarkable change … Thank you, Google.”
We, too, would bow and kiss the base of Google’s throne if Stross’ article provided any evidence that the Internet giant had actually changed anything. But all we get is a few anecdotes and the information that “Google’s CEO said the company’s profits jumped sevenfold … partly because larger companies were increasingly willing to spend their ad dollars on search-related advertising.”
Has this “idiosyncratic foray,” as Stross calls it, really led to a “multilateral disarmament” among Web advertisers? Are bothersome pop-ups truly things of the past? Or have sponsored links simply provided advertisers with yet another means of reaching media consumers?
It seems that for the time being, advertisers on the Internet continue to spend the bulk of their money on the types of ads Google’s innovation supposedly liberated us from — a point that Stross himself concedes in his story’s obligatory “True, but …” paragraph. “True,” he writes, “major ad buyers still spend a majority of their client’s online budgets on banners and display ads and, increasingly, on video commercials.”
“But even in the deployment of these formats, one can see the effects of Google’s civilizing influence.”
The only “civilizing influence” we see is the one that a very big, and apparently flawless, Internet company is having on Google-eyed members of the press.