The period surrounding Advertising Week has historically often been used as the stage for big reveals of new products and technology and this year was no exception, with Google announcing its much-anticipated Customer Match product.
What is Customer Match?
Customer Match allows advertisers to upload a list of their customers’ email addresses, which can be matched to user accounts on Google. When a matched user is signed into his or her Google account, advertisers can then deliver tailored ad campaigns across Google Search, Gmail and YouTube which make use of the first party data they hold on the user together with profile information available from Google.
In addition, Google will offer an extension of the product, called Similar Audiences, which uses the characteristics of matched users to create a lookalike audience segment across other Google users. This will give advertisers the opportunity to use their first party data to extend the reach of their targeted advertising to potential new customers – although notably it will not stretch to Google Search.
In an attempt to address privacy concerns, Google has emphasised that it will use advertiser’s email lists in a “secure and privacy-safe way” – anonymised and hashed – and that it will only let advertisers target email addresses that they have acquired directly from their customers, such as by signing up to a newsletter or rewards programme. In particular, this means that advertisers will be prevented from uploading lists of email addresses purchased from a third party. Google has developed a way of verifying the direct relationship between brand and customer, but has refused to elaborate on how this works, apparently in an effort to prevent it being circumvented.
Whether this approach to privacy is successful or not, particularly in light of the interest that Google is currently attracting from European regulators, remains to be seen.
New dog, old tricks?
Customer Match as a concept is not revolutionary. Facebook, for example, has allowed advertisers to match customer lists with Facebook users in 2012 via its Custom Audiences tool. It is perhaps surprising in fact that Google did not already have an equivalent tool in its armoury.
Opinions vary as to why Google has taken so long to bring this to market, with concerns about privacy and regulatory scrutiny often being cited as the main reason. Whether it is because Google has found a way to get comfortable with these concerns, or was simply unable to resist the pressure of advertiser demand and the temptation of increased revenues, remains unclear. Regardless, Google is now able to offer advertisers similar targeting options to its major competitors.
What does it mean for advertisers?
Any offering which delivers more effective targeting will always be welcomed by advertisers, and with 900 million Gmail accounts and an undisclosed number of users signed-in to Google and YouTube, Google clearly gives advertisers access to a massive audience.
The vast extent of Google’s web presence and the multitude of channels through which Google interacts with users, together with the rich data available from its Gmail customers in particular, may give Google an advantage over Facebook and other platforms in its ability to influence a user when they are close to making a purchase.
On the downside, advertisers may be disappointed that the Similar Audiences offering does not extend to Google Search, and it’s as yet unclear whether Google’s decision is due to privacy concerns or to ensure it doesn’t in some way cut across Google’s AdWords auctions which are such an important revenue stream for Google.