Google and California: Two Ad Futures

In which I propose a new maxim: What is good for Google is not automatically good for the state.

In the right hands, advertising can change the world. Look at Google. A lot of us forget Google’s grand empire is built entirely on advertising. Those sponsored links, and text ads you see in blogs have brought in billions of dollars. Now, Google has expanded out into display ads, rich media ads, mobile ads, and even television ads (did you know you can buy a television ad campaign on Google?

And what has Google done with this revenue? Largely great stuff. Huge categories of stuff that we would consider costly a decade or so ago are now free. Office software. Unlimited phone number and voicemail. Mapping and turn-by-turn navigation. Mobile phone (and tablet) operating systems. Hell, Android is less than free. Manufacturers using it on their devices get to participate in Google’s ad revenue stream.

Yes, you read that right. Instead of paying a hefty Windows license, Google is paying manufacturers to use Android.

All from ads.

Now, of course, there’s always the chance that Google will turn truly evil in the future, turn into Skynet or something, and make us all live in slavery forever, for whatever twisted reason, but for the moment, the equation holds: Google + Ads = Good Free Stuff for People.

On the other hand, we have broke California. Eying Google’s success with ads (and perhaps taking a look at my tongue-in-cheek Outshine Twitter about advertising on paper money), they’ve come up with a brilliant idea: replace all the license plates in California with electronic license plates that can display ads.

And yes, you read that right. Electronic license plates that display ads.

“Well, hell, that’s gonna be distracting!” someone immediately says. “Going down the freeway and seeing a thousand blinking, screaming ads all flashing at you? How will that work?”

“No problem,” California confidently says. “They’ll only display when the car hasn’t moved for more than four seconds. And with the ability to buy ads at your friendly, helpful DMV, we’re sure to have customers lining up.”

Okay, let’s try some harder questions. Like: “What happens when the inevitable 14-year-old hacks the system and puts pictures of dicks on every license plate? Or worse?”

“Notgonnahappen,” California says. “We’ve designed the system with a bazillion gigabit security system, not hackable for . . . oh wait, it’s been hacked. Erghh, look at that.

Yeah, that’s what we thought. Or how about this: “Hey California buttheads, my car battery’s dead from your friggin ads. Pay up!”

“Well, of course there will be a failsafe system rendering this impossible, designed by NASA scientists . . . oh wait, you mean the real world is different than a lab?” California says. “You mean some people have cars they don’t drive for days at a time? Ah, wait . . .”

Or, the biggest question of all: “If you’re advertising on my car, where’s my cut? When I choose to let Google put ads on my blog, I get money.”

And that’s the point that California missed. Google works because it’s voluntary, and because there’s an incentive to use it. Ads on license plates . . . uh, not so much.

June 26th, 2010 / 1,403 Comments »

1,403 Responses to “Google and California: Two Ad Futures”

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