. . . Friday December 17, 2004

Geico, Google, Me and Marketing’s New Age

The days of just rubberstamping a Yellow Pages ad are over. We’ve entered a new age of marketing and advertising and the surface has barely been scratched.

Throughout the course of this week, the Geico v Google case has been in the news. At issue was Geico’s challenge to the idea that a competitor could buy a sponsored ad that would show up on Google’s results page when users searched for Geico.

The case started Monday and a decision (a narrow ruling in favor of Google) was rendered on Wednesday. I assumed that many people would be like me (a narcissistic trait found most commonly among megalomaniacal dictators and people who blog): They would read the story about Geico and Google. Then they would head over to Google and see what comes up in the sponsored listings when they searched for Geico.

So I bought the word (which makes me a narcissist with too much time on my hands).

When news about the case first broke, traffic started to pour in. The I got Slashdotted. Someone over at Slashdot decided that, although they thought my idea was pretty funny, they would still encourage other Slashdot visitors to click on my Google ad in an effort to run up my bill and to (in the words of plan’s mastermind) “piss Pell off.” Fortunately, it was all in good fun and most of those who took the advice went easy on me. By the end of the day on Wednesday, the traffic to this site became extreme as did my clickthrough rate on Google. That “success” led to my text ad being moved from the right margin to the advertising VIP section above Google’s main listings; above the news about Geico, above the listing for the Geico site itself.

I became, for a brief and glorious moment, the Geico version of the Aflak duck.

Interestingly, I also got an unusual number of clicks from the domain aporter.com. Turns out that resolves to arnoldporter.com, the website of Arnold & Porter. Who is Arnold & Porter? The lawfirm that represented Geico in this week’s case.

I’m hoping they have a sense of humor…

For me, this was all mostly an experimental joke (and a fairly expensive one at that). But there was a marketing angle. The folks who would be interested in the Google-Geico story and would be likely to perform a test search on Google happen to be smack dab in the middle of the target market for this site where I cover the intersection of media, technology and culture. A significant percentage of people who searched for the word Geico this week are just the type of people (funny, creative, smart, desperately bored and a perhaps a tad sociopathic) who would be interested in my blog. I quickly started to get emails from people who said they thought the Google ad was cool and this was their first visit to Davenetics. Many of them will likely bookmark the site and become regular readers.

My dad’s response to all of this was, “OK, but what good does any of that do you?”

I don’t quite have an answer to that one yet, but my experience does clearly point to the fact that we have opened up a whole new marketing frontier that will require ad buyers and small businesses to be a lot more creative with their marketing plans. It’s not as simple as coming up with the most obvious search terms. As the market grows, those will become prohibitively expensive for most buyers. Ad buyers will need to predict what their potential buyers might be interested in and then try to get in front of them as they’re on the way to finding it.

If you want to get in front of a few thousand potential orthodontics patients, you might have to figure out something more creative than the words teeth and braces. And in many cases, your marketing plan may only last for a few days (or even a few hours) at which time you’ll need to add new search terms to the mix.

Some news sites have already been employing these strategies to get in front of stories. This week, the news has been all about Bernard Kerik. If you are an active news junkie, there is a decent chance that you’d search for the word Kerik on Google. That would qualify you as just the type of person who would make a great customer for a major news site. So, what happens when you search for Kerik on Google? You get the New York Times as your top result. They’re basically employing the same strategy as I used in the Geico case (except it’s less funny and the payoff isn’t nearly as orgasmic for those who dare to click the link — oh yeah, and they have a business model once someone gets there).

Of course, there is another angle here as well. Think about how much money Geico spent on their legal challenge. It might be a lot. But it’s a lot less than they would have had to spend to get this kind of blanket exposure for their brand via traditional marketing means. This is most free marketing I’ve seen for any person or brand since Paris Hilton greened, grained and grinded her way into our collective consciousness.

As soon as the traffic from my Geico ad dies down, I might just have to sue somebody. Either that, or maybe I’ll release a supposedly private videotape. Somehow I don’t think the gangs from Slashdot or Arnold & Porter would be able to stomach that one.

(this is an old post, my current stuff is over at Tweetage Wasteland.)

Concentration is important!