5Qs: Google’s Neal Mohan

Neal  Mohan is vp of product for Google, managing Google’s portfolio of AdSense for Content and DoubleClick platform products. He has helmed innovative strategies in display advertising, emerging ad formats, and social media monetization. Mohan is the driving force behind Google’s strategy to remake the display advertising market. He spoke to DiIGIDAY about his vision of the future of display and Google’s role in it.

What are some of the major changes and challenges that CMOs face in formulating a display strategy?
The biggest change is that consumers are spending more and more time online, driving a proliferation of online content, along with an explosion in the number of devices that deliver it. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity for today’s CMO. The sheer diversity of choices in terms of how and where consumers get their news and entertainment makes it harder for a marketer to reach their audience. For example, in 1961, you could buy an ad on all three major networks at 8 p.m. and know you would reach 60 percent of your target audience. Now that same audience is increasingly fragmented.
Conversely, new technology is making it easier than ever for advertisers to get their message to the precise audience they’re looking for. For example, real-time ad buying, one of the most quickly adopted ad technologies I’ve ever seen, allows a marketer to bid, impression by impression, when they have the most possible information about how well a given ad is likely to perform — immediately before it gets served. We’re now seeing more than 60 percent of the trades on the DoubleClick Ad Exchange happen in real time, and I expect that number will grow, especially as we see a rush of new formats move towards this type of buying: video, mobile, even TV. Overall, I would say the challenges of today’s marketplace will be more than offset by the upsides CMOs will see as display advertising continues to become simpler, better performing and more measurable.
Google’s ultimate weapon is search, along with the formidable ad ecosystem. What are some things that Google is doing to leverage this advantage?
Search advertising, of course, has helped our clients immeasurably: it’s effective, measurable and incredibly relevant. It’s also a model that we are continuing to invest in and innovate. For example we recently launched media ads — ads with an embedded video player, perfect for movie trailers. Clearly, relationships are becoming a more and more important signal online as well, both on the content and the ads side. We recently rolled out our +1 button that allows users to recommend both search results and ads to their friends; I predict we’ll see more innovation across the industry in this area.
Google’s recent change in algorithm, in the opinion of many, made web content better for consumers and advertisers. Why has the industry waited so long to “clean up” content farms that diminish the industry and basically help waste ad inventory?
The success of the online advertising industry as a whole depends on users’ ability to connect with great content. For example, publisher partners participating in our AdSense program are required to comply with a set of policies, including some governing content. We also require them to abide by our webmaster guidelines, meaning that a site that doesn’t qualify to be indexed for search results cannot serve Google ads. In general, I would argue that there are a lot of great sites out there producing top quality content that offers real value to readers; our focus on the ads side is providing the revenue-generating tools that allow them to continue to do that.
How will the ad ecosystem change if consumer privacy initiatives begin to conflict with traditional practices of how CMO’s collect and analyze data?
Like many others, we believe that personalized advertising can be highly beneficial and data shows that it generates more useful ads for users as measured by higher click-through rates, higher returns for website publishers when measured by revenues earned by small and large websites and better results for advertisers as measured by increased sales and website traffic. Of course, we know that some people do not want this type of advertising. We believe it’s possible — and in fact, essential — to deliver relevant ads while protecting user privacy, and we are deeply involved in building solutions in this area, like our Ads Preferences Manager, and we are active participants in ongoing dialogue on this topic.
Does Google believe that display can actually grow in the present climate?

I am incredibly bullish on the future of the display business. Online advertising is now the second largest advertising medium, behind television, and  the growth in display is outpacing that of the overall ad market. New technologies are enabling incredibly exciting campaigns, as well as making it possible for advertisers of all sizes, large and small, to benefit from what display has to offer. Right now, the display business is estimated to be around $20-25 billion. At Google, we believe it has the potential to grow to $200 billion, as ad dollars continue to follow consumers online, and as the barriers to entry such as complexity and cost diminish. I believe we are in a new golden age of advertising, powered by technology, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next.

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