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10 Highlights from Google Marketing Live 2019

Last week, over 5,000 people from 68 countries descended upon San Francisco’s Moscone Center for the annual Google Marketing Live (GML) conference. Omnicom was well represented across agencies, capabilities, and client verticals. Google distilled its vision for consumer-first advertising in an era focused on user-privacy into three simple principles: Be there. Be helpful. Be Responsible.

Kicking things off in the welcome keynote, Google identified mobile behavior, machine learning, and new creative formats as the three revolutions in digital advertising today. The broad array of announcements that followed were all tethered to these three focus areas – several of which delivered on longstanding wishlist items and others were impressive innovations that we are excited to bring to our clients in the months ahead.

Here is a roundup of the key announcements from the event:

1. Discovery Campaigns

Google’s new Discovery Campaigns are intent-based native ads, which can be shown to a common Google audience across several Google properties. The new ad format relies on machine learning to render the advertiser’s assets in a personalized way and can be shown across Google’s Discover feed, YouTube homepage feed, and Gmail’s social and promotions tabs to reach users at scale. Notably, video creative isn’t required for this ad format, which opens up new opportunities for advertisers with limited production budgets who haven’t been able to advertise on YouTube previously. The beta was released on Tuesday, May 14 and will roll out globally later this year.

What this means for advertisers: An entirely new campaign type, featuring new inventory and creative formats, Discovery Campaigns are a compelling tool for awareness and consideration, especially for advertisers who have found success with Google Audiences.

2. Google Shopping

Google has big plans to redesign the Google Shopping experience to include immersive ways for shoppers to find products. Their aim is to reduce friction by ensuring users have the ability to purchase any way they want to: directly on Google, on a retailer’s website, or at a nearby store. Google will bring ads, local and transactions into one place to help brands and retailers connect with consumers in more meaningful ways.

To support these changes, the Shopping tab will soon feature a personalized homepage for each user where they can filter their searches, read reviews, and even watch videos about the products. Users will also see personalized recommendations based on their past purchases and recent searches.

Showcase Shopping Ads were initially released in 2016, but at the conference, Google announced that they are soon extending the format to more places that users go to for inspiration: Google Images, the Discover feed, and YouTube homepage feed (no video required).

Google also announced Shopping Campaigns with Partners, which allows brands and manufacturers to use their own media budgets to promote products within their retailer’s campaigns. Through this partnership, both the brand and retailer gain access to additional performance data to gain deeper insights.

What this means for advertisers: Showcase Ads are the most immersive ad format available to eCommerce advertisers, and the expanded reach into additional premium Google inventory is a noteworthy development. Shopping Campaigns with Partners will be a welcomed enhancement to retailers and manufacturers who have co-marketing arrangements in other channels and want to replicate online. Google’s vision for a personalized shopping experience is very compelling, though there are no details on advertising or organic ranking at this time. Through these new offerings, Google is reaffirming its product search capabilities amid intensifying competition in the industry.

3. Gallery Ads

Later this year, Google will release Gallery Ads, which is the first search ad format that showcases content in a more interactive visual manner, allowing brands to tell a more immersive story. The unit appears prominently in mobile top position only and features a swipeable or scrollable gallery that users can interact with. Google noted that ad groups containing at least one gallery ad can earn up to 25% more interactions (paid clicks or swipes). Advertisers can select between 4-8 images, which can each have a tagline containing up to 70 characters, along with the ability to test up to three different headline and CTA combinations.

What this means for advertisers: Formerly “Story Ads,” Omnicom saw a lift in engagement with Gallery Ads vs. text ads across alpha-stage testing. Gallery Ads are a highly-recommended creative format for all search advertisers who have visual assets.

4. Bumper Machine

Nicky Rettke, Director of Product Management for YouTube, revealed that three six-second bumper ads delivered 107% higher ad recall and 134% higher purchase intent compared to a single 30-second ad. To help increase adoption of the ad format, a new tool was released to automate production of six-second bumper ads for YouTube. Designed to reduce the barrier to entry for advertisers with minimal production budgets, this new tool uses machine learning to identify key moments that contain product or brand information, human faces, motion or contrast within a <90 second long video and produces an output of 3-4 six-second videos. Advertisers can now rely on artificial intelligence to create captivating new videos from existing creative. Marketers can then use light editing features to finalize the video. Nicky Rettke, Director of Product Management for YouTube, revealed that in initial tests, three six-second bumper ads delivered 107% higher ad recall and 134% higher purchase intent compared to a single 30-second YouTube ad.

What this means for advertisers: Bumper Machine might be the most exciting machine learning application Google has made directly available to end-users. This tool could potentially eliminate production costs associated with video cutdown edits. With no financial commitment required, all advertisers who have any videos under 90 seconds should test the tool and assess its outputs.

5. Audience Developments

One of the more technical announcements, but also one of the most impressive and applicable, was the Audience Expansion Tool. A simple slider widget will enable advertisers to expand and contract the size and precision of a selected Google Audience. Advertisers can leverage Google’s machine learning capabilities to identify additional similar users if a particular audience group is particularly effective, or reduce exposure to a more selective core audience to suit smaller budgets or shorter flights. This feature will be made available later this year.

Google is also merging custom intent audiences with custom affinity audiences to form, simply,  Custom Audiences. This update will grant advertisers the ability to target prospects based on both their interests and behaviors in a single audience.

What this means for advertisers: The Audience Expansion tool is great for advertisers who want more of an audience they love, or those who have been intimidated by the scale of Google’s audience targets in the past. It’s worthwhile for advertisers to test the new Custom Audience targeting and how it performs comparably to the previous types of targeting, especially for brands without access to first party data.

6. App Deep Linking & Reporting

Over the next few weeks, Google is going to enable deep linking from Google Search, Display and Shopping ads, so that users can be taken directly to the relevant page within an advertiser’s mobile app (if they already have it installed). This will allow for a better user experience and more robust insights reporting and measurement for advertisers. In-app conversion reporting will also be coming to Google Analytics Firebase. Sissie Hsiao, Vice President of Product Management for Mobile App, reported that initial tests have shown that deep linked ad campaigns drove 2X conversion rates on average.

What this means for advertisers: This is a welcome change to advertisers with robust mobile app experiences, and perhaps an even more welcome change to their loyal customers. Though it may add complexity to tracking and attribution, the parallel development in GA Firebase will hopefully mitigate this for many advertisers.

7. Smart Bidding

Smart Bidding applies the power of machine learning to deliver the right ad to the right person in the right context. While this has been around for some time already, Google heard feedback that advertisers want more flexibility and addressed those needs via several updates to the capability:

  • Maximize Conversion Value: While tCPA and tROAS focus on driving efficiencies, this new Smart Bidding tool will work towards increasing overall attributed revenue over time. This allows an advertiser to optimize for the most conversion value within a specified budget.
  • Campaign-Level Conversions: Allows advertisers to choose which conversion actions they want to use for optimizations at the campaign level instead of the account level. Advertisers can also optimize to store visit conversions for search campaigns. This is especially important for advertisers that have differentiated campaign goals within the same account.
  • Conversion Action Sets: Advertisers can now optimize their bids across several campaigns by creating a set of desired conversion actions.
  • Conversion Value Rules: In the coming months, advertisers will be able to set their own rules based on characteristics like location, device, and audience to better align their conversion values with their business goals, ultimately helping them to better understand true impact of their campaigns.
  • Seasonality Adjustments: This new feature accounts for traffic mix changes for events outside of advertiser’s control, like the holiday season, and ad hoc one-time promotions where they expect higher conversion rates, Google will adjust bids to account for these anticipated changes.

Google also showcased a new feature in which the “top signals” that drive the best performance in Smart Bidding will be surfaced to advertisers for machine-learning-assisted insights.

What this means for advertisers: Maximize Conversion Value adds a much needed target to Google suite of Smart Bidding tools that will surely appeal to eCommerce advertisers prioritizing volume and growth over efficiency. The remaining updates add a fantastic new layer of precision that addresses the real-world complexity that often precludes some advertisers from considering Smart Bidding tools.

8. TV Solutions for Display & Video 360

Payam Shodjai, Director of Product Management for Google Marketing Platform, reported that the number of Connected TV (CTV) ad slots available via Display & Video 360 has increased 8X over the past year and the number of advertisers running CTV campaigns has increased 137% in the same timeframe. Given the success Google is seeing, they are doubling down on their efforts and announced two major advancements.

First, Google is establishing privacy-focused standards for CTV that encourage “responsible audience management practices” by providing users with more transparency and choice over their ad settings. Display & Video 360 will now support the new IAB Tech Lab guidelines, which ensure users will be able to decide how their data is used and even opt out of interest-based ads if they want.

The next announcement is major. Advertisers will soon be able to purchase Linear TV ads across both national broadcast networks and thousands of local TV stations. Additionally, Google is rolling out a new streamlined workflow this fall, so advertisers can manage their audience buys across both Linear and CTV in a single dashboard and within a single insertion order (IO). This new workflow will allow buyers to utilize parameters like TV network, dayparting, and geography to set up their campaigns and budget allocations can be optimized by adjusting the settings.

Advertisers will also be able to leverage Google native and first party audiences against digital video (YouTube), SVOD (e.g., Hulu), OTT (YouTube TV), and linear national broadcast (e.g., AMC, Univision, ESPN). These advancements provide the capability to manage frequency across TV buys in a privacy-compliant manner. As of now, the beta integration for U.S. network affiliates is available via WideOrbit and later this year premium national broadcast and cable channels will be available via Google’s partnership with clypd.

What this means for advertisers: Seventy four percent of U.S. households have Connected TVs, so the opportunity for advertisers is sizable, and the consolidation of buying across Linear and CTV is what many advertisers have been waiting for. The ability to streamline and simplify the TV buying experience will be a time-saver for buyers and enable better insights for brands.

9. Automation-Driven Display

A key theme of the conference was automation and Google believes display can benefit from it more than any other channel. Their goal is to enable advertisers to boost performance by automating mundane actions, fostering deeper insights and control where it matters most. They released several updates for Display which will do just that:

  • Smart Display Campaigns: These campaigns employ several technologies to streamline the optimization process: automated targeting, automated bidding, and automated ad creation. Historically, Smart Display campaigns were not available for advertisers with low spend or low conversions, but now they are able to maintain with just 10 percent of the data, which allows the feature to be more widely available than ever before. Google has observed a 2.5X increase in Smart Display Campaigns adoption in the past year and advertisers have seen strong returns with Google reporting results 20 percent more conversions that other display campaigns run across their placements.
  • Customer Match for Display: Customer match has long existed for search ads, but now they are being rolled out for Display campaigns as well. They can be used directly in your campaign or as seed audience for Audience Expansion. Google is also making this type of audience available for Video and Discovery campaigns.
  • Video Assets for Responsive Display Ads: This new capability dynamically constructs ads based on the best performing video creative assets. The new top combinations report allows you to see which combinations are performing best to inform your optimization strategies.
  • Dynamic Prospecting: By linking a product feed to display campaigns, advertisers can gain visibility of their products with prospective customers who Google deems to be showing intent. Google combines intent with other audience signals to match users to the most relevant products in an advertiser’s feed.  

What this means for advertisers: Any advertisers that previously didn’t meet the spend or conversion minimums for Smart Display Campaigns should begin testing them now. Advertisers who are using Customer Match for their Search campaigns can now extend them to display, Video, and Discovery campaigns. For those brands already running Responsive Display Ads, begin testing with video assets to further automate the workflow and finally, direct response clients should consider trying a new audience tactic with Dynamic Prospecting.

10. Local Campaigns

Google has long proclaimed the importance of online advertising to drive in-store traffic. They strengthened their commitment to this space with the announcement of Local Campaigns. This campaign type simplifies targeting and inventory across multiple Google properties, reminiscent of Universal App Campaigns, and the aforementioned Discovery Campaigns. With a few inputs (store locations, copy, images, budget, and bid), advertisers will be eligible to show to relevant users across Search, Google Maps, YouTube, and GDN. Further enhancements in the pipeline will supplement ad formats with product-specific imagery, information, and special offers. Additionally, ads in Local Campaigns will be eligible to show in new contexts within the Maps environment – along planned navigation routes and in Maps search suggestions. Google shared that across early adopters, Local Campaigns drove an average of 5x incremental ROAS from their locations.

What this means for advertisers: Local Campaigns make a compelling test for all advertisers who have brick-and-mortar locations, regardless of how many or few, and value customer contacts, foot traffic, and in-store sales.

Final Thoughts

As the digital landscape continues to become more complex and fragmented, Google has re-emphasized its commitment to helping advertisers connect to relevant audiences with relevant ads wherever they may be. The mantra of “Be there. Be helpful. Be responsible.” sounds simple at first blush, but don’t be deceived: only Google’s vast weight of data, engineering, machine learning, automation, and behavioral insights can enable marketers to achieve that ambition at such scale. Lines between Search, Social, Display, and Video were further blurred at Google Marketing Live 2019; but rather than feeling overwhelming, it was refreshing.

Aside from the clear innovation on display, product roadmaps, and visions for the future of Shopping, Local, and Travel, Google has fully committed to taking feedback, and improving the Google Marketing Live event itself. In addition to the announcement-packed keynotes, GML had blown out agendas by vertical, a 100,000 square foot product sandbox where attendees could speak directly to product teams, and an assortment of more intimate presentations and forums. All-in-all, it was a sensational event that left us inspired by the vision, and excited to bring new strategies to life.