Display Wars - a few battles may be over but the war for Display rages on

And so the drama heightens once more in the wake of the sacking of Yahoo's CEO Carol Bartz, dealing a decidedly low blow to what now feels like withered bonds between the Yahoo and MSN Search Alliance, which still remains to exist in the UK. With the battle between the big three growing ever more intense with the news in May that Google, already dominating the Search space, had outrun Yahoo in what was the latter's final bastion, Display advertising, can the Search Alliance pick itself up, dust itself off and fight the battle now on two fronts?

Indeed in war, a battle on two fronts often requires a helping hand, typically an entity closer to one of those fronts, who can use their experience and might to take some of the load (think Russia in WW2). Cue AOL, with recent reports citing a merger with Yahoo and a further "Display Alliance" between AOL, MSN and Yahoo. But can any of these plans scupper Google's continued conquest for online domination? First let's look at three core reasons why Google has continued to flourish in the Display space:

Accessibility - Consider that out of the three, Google is the only engine to allow seamless production of both Search and Display campaigns within one interface controlled directly by you the advertiser. This is fantastic for helping the likes of small to medium sized companies (SME's) get external coverage, which otherwise wouldn't be possible without direct publisher / network links. There is a level of future proofing here as well, as Google looks to other markets and in particular India, to stir up demand from small businesses.

Innovation - Ok, so Google hasn't been the major innovator of Display as it has been with Search, what with it being relatively late to the party with Re-Marketing and Pre-Targeting tactics. However, what Google has done is embrace performance Display in a way that Yahoo and MSN simply haven't. Couple this with accessibility ease via Adwords and you've got a package that will be front of mind, when advertisers and agencies alike are thinking of a performance Display strategy, even though it might not be the most revolutionary solution in that space at present.

Quality - Performance has always been at the forefront of Search. Google has always prided itself on being able to deliver high quality traffic and it is clear, since coming in and out of a recession, that advertisers now seek this from Display also. At Greenlight, we have seen a remarkable uptake in performance based Display strategies over the past year. True, premium buys will always be in demand for brand awareness pieces, however, already these campaigns are facing greater scrutiny by advertisers. Google essentially offers a huge network through the Google Display Network (GDN), with various tactics underpinned by a similar performance notion carried over from Search.

So before this blog becomes far too pro Google, based on the above how is the new triple attack from AOL, MSN and Yahoo likely to fair? What we have heard is that the deal will allow the three portals to sell advertising space against each other's remnant inventory, inventory they haven't been able to sell individually on a premium basis, and would usually turn to Ad networks and agencies to fill up. Although this could help improve the quality of the Ads being shown across the 3 portals, as it would basically be a sharing of premium advertising, could it actually be a barrier for say  SME's, which may rely on the likes of Ad networks to get decent coverage on high profile sites? On the flipside, the sharing of inventory should open up a greater real estate portfolio for larger advertisers, which you could anticipate turning into more significant media buys, as it would reduce the need for buyers to have to look elsewhere to fill the shortfalls in their media plans.

A key area I feel hasn't yet been addressed by both Yahoo and MSN is the accessibility of Display and its integration with their Search platforms. By providing one stop shop interfaces like Adwords, this would remove barriers to entry for both agencies and advertisers alike, allowing a greater and easier crossover of disciplines, which in itself would generate more interest and grounds for testing and subsequently revenue for the two businesses. As we have seen with Yahoo and MSN, technical breakthroughs with each of their Search platforms have been very few and far between, whilst Google drives forwards with new initiatives and tactics. There is huge opportunity if Yahoo and MSN can get their tech sorted out; maybe once the Search Alliance is in full swing they can concentrate all of their efforts on improving AdCenter, instead of spreading themselves too thinly across two platforms. More questions arise though on how AOL would then be integrated into this...

All in all the new Display Alliance sounds like AOL, MSN and Yahoo haven't waived the white flag just yet. A few wounds need to be licked first and if the merger is seen as a way to regroup and build revenue, which could then lead to more innovation and integration with channels such as Search later, this would be a welcome step to try and trip up Google.

All that remains to be seen is whether it can it be pulled off; a few battles may be over but the war for Display rages on, oh and before I forget, did I mention Facebook...

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