“The Battle for the Soul of the Internet” – Adweek’s Ronan Shields on the Coming War Between Apple and Google Over the Future of Digital Advertising
January 27, 2021
Adweek’s Programmatic Editor, Ronan Shields discusses the many enormous changes set to rock digital advertising in 2021 and beyond – and how the biggest tech companies are looking to shape the web in their image. Namely, according to Shields, Google is trying to preserve its power as the most powerful ad targeting machine in the world, while Apple is looking to assert its influence under the veil of privacy. Meanwhile, the rest of the ad ecosystem is simply trying to hang on.
Mike Shields (38s):
Hi everybody. This is Mike Shields, welcome to Next in Marketing. Today I’ve got a very special guest, my oldest son Ronan Shields is here from Adweek.
Ronan Shields (47s):
Thank you very much, Mike. Perhaps we should put some rumors to rest out there. Thank you for having me.
Mike Shields (53s):
Yes. No, you are the Programmatic Reporter at AdWeek, right?
Ronan Shields (58s): Editor, you could say, but,
Mike Shields (1m 0s): Editor, I’m sorry.
Ronan Shields (1m 1s):
No, that’s all right. I still write quite a bit. It’s no difference, it’s just a different title.
Mike Shields (1m 7s):
I am an Adweek alum and we do have the same last name, but we are not related to be clear. Although people have asked you about that, right?
Ronan Shields (1m 13s):
Several people. Yeah. It’s kind of quite funny because Yeah, we’re from a very different parts of the world. So there we go.
Mike Shields (1m 21s):
I was excited to have Ronan on the show because he’s one of those people that covers these really important, super complicated parts of our, of the digital advertising business that I feel like a lot of people need to understand, probably know that they are really important, but don’t always take the time to spend enough of their time, just examining how these macro change is going on digital advertising effects that are gonna affect everything, but they are really complicated. And I think it’s easy just to brush past this stuff. So glad you’re here. Let’s start, you know, it’s the still the beginning of the year, in your mind, there are so many things going on. What’s the biggest story you’re watching for in 2021?
Ronan Shields (2m 2s):
So the biggest story almost for, well, it’s a bit of a coin toss to be frank and it centers on two companies, Apple and Google. Pretty much the war for the soul of the Internet some of the sources I speak to, you know, when you go down the premium route and the app route? Or do you go down an ad funded web route? We both know Apple obviously goes down the app route or a premium, actually have my own thoughts, which we can get to in a while as to their attitude towards the advertising business. But Google is really having to almost solo, try to reinvent the business model of the internet.
Ronan Shields (2m 44s):
I hear a really targeted advertising, which they owe through search and all of the online display that the Programmatic sector. And there are almost having to do that solo with the privacy sandbox stuff while at the same time having the US government and governments around the world, looking over their shoulder with the antitrust cases. So I think that, and then the mobile advertising stuff with Apple and iOS 14, I think those are the two big ones for me.
Mike Shields (3m 17s):
Right? And that’s a perfect example that Google trying to almost rebuild the rules of, or the fundamental way the business operates. I don’t know if everybody is totally paying attention to that. I think it’s just, everyone knows there are changes coming with cookies and regulation and such, but I don’t know that they really are dialed into the, all the Google is trying to do to insure that behavioral targeting works, that their golden goose keeps printing money. And I think it’s assumed that they are not under any kind of real threat, but things are changing.
Ronan Shields (3m 49s):
Yeah. But I think I would say not even everybody at Google knows what Google is to, from the people I speak to, they do seem to suggest that there’s almost this internal division within Google. So you have the Google Chrome team and the project team. These are the people that are driving the privacy settings. And then the same time you have the advertising team. But I think, I think, I don’t know, this is just the impression I’ve been given that they are very much kept separate, internally. I think probably the optics wouldn’t look good if they were seem to be colluding in any way, given the whole antitrust stuff that I mentioned.
Ronan Shields (4m 33s):
So yeah, and when I speak to buyers and sources, they just say, Google’s not doing a very good job of articulating it to the important stakeholders and the industry that sort of an almost universal a thing that I hear.
Mike Shields (4m 51s):
It reminds me of that the same kind of dynamic played out years ago at Microsoft when they were making changes to the way that ads worked in this. And their browser, but it wasn’t nearly as massive of an advertising business when the stakes were not as high. It didn’t like rock the industry where this is that potential. What about, okay, so I want to come back to Google a second, but look, going back to your earlier comment about the soul of the internet. Is it, you described it as apps versus advertisement, is it, more than that? Is it, I’m sorry, Apples point of view, I think is their, or at least their marketing messages are all about privacy and we’re kind of inherently against targeting or are we, they don’t say that, but it’s a little bit of an anti advertising or targeted advertising position.
Mike Shields (5m 39s): Is that the battle?
Ronan Shields (5m 40s):
Yeah. I think the battle is Apple and Google. Yeah. So this is what I alluded to earlier. I don’t believe for one second Apple’s narrative around, we respect your privacy. No way. Absolutely not. Mike, you and I both know, we talked about the days go by. Remember I asked in the early part of the 2010s.
Mike Shields (6m 1s): Yep.
Ronan Shields (6m 2s):
Back when I could call myself a rookie. I remember they were coming out and pitching heart and some of my sources went to work there and all the buyers where like, we would love their data where all the iTunes data, et cetera, et cetera, are absolutely we’ll have that, but they weren’t offering it. And especially for the money they were commanding. What was that?
Mike Shields (6m 23s):
It was like a million bucks a day or something for the first sponsorships, if I remember correctly.
Ronan Shields (6m 26s):
Yeah. It was a minimum million dollar spent. And I remember it was just some of that language is that the media buyers use to use when they were describing the arrogance of the Apple sales people. When they would come into a well at that time I worked in London. So it is all around Charlotte Street, which was, you
know, the British equivalent of Madison Ave. And they will just say that they would come in, and they would say, this and they’re like, no, no, no, what we needed you to go see it. <inaudible> no negotiations. And then they, obviously they want that back in kind of like the mid-part of the decades, they kind of very silently closed it, but I think we’re going to take another run at this advertising market. I think they’re doing it very slowly.
Ronan Shields (7m 7s):
If you look at some of the T’s and C’s that they were burying done, and there are terms of service for consumers, they are starting to alleviate the language. So yeah, I think Apple will take another run at the advertising market, not this year, maybe next year, because apparently it’s a bit of a difficult, difficult job.
Mike Shields (7m 29s):
And that’s interesting because if you are describing the cultural challenges inside of Google, it’s got to be even more challenging at Apple, I would imagine because I feel like there’s a, there was a faction, even at the time you were describing with iAds and Steve Jobs is still running the company that was really not interested in advertising at all. You see some of that reflective today ,like, they don’t really have an ad business on Apple TV that I know about Apple News, they outsource it.
Ronan Shields (7m 54s):
Yeah. Again, when I speak to sources that work quite closely with Apple, they are reliant on the iOS ecosystem. They were saying to me that they think probably the big structure is, you know, Apple as primarily a user experience company first. So if they don’t think they can get the right UX for the ad experience, they will delay, you know, pulling the trigger and launching that as a service, you know, it’s got to be right before its brought to market. And I think, that’s one thing that Apple do best to meet every device.
I’m looking at right now it’s an Apple device. They do brilliant design. So while I got the sincerity of their marketing messaging, I would absolutely believe that there are probably going to come up with a very sleek product.
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