Amazon is coming for your ad dollars

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The online shopping platform has streamlined its advertising offering, making it a real threat for Google and Facebook.

Turning the duopoly into a triopoly

When we think of major digital ad platforms, our thoughts naturally turn to the giants, Google and Facebook. There is no doubting that for many years the ‘big two’ have had a duopoly of advertisers’ digital budgets across much of the world. Google’s ad revenue in quarter two of this year was a huge $28 billion, while Facebook’s was a smaller but still very sizeable $13 billion, of which 15% was generated by Instagram. We’ve discussed in our blog before how Facebook seems to be struggling to grow in the face of privacy scandals and user stagnation and, conversely, how Google appears to go from strength to strength.

However, there is a third player that’s turning the duopoly into a triopoly. A report published by eMarketer in September revealed that Amazon will more than double its US digital ad revenues this year, meaning it will overtake Oath and Microsoft to become the third largest digital advertising platform. This news came as Amazon revealed that it had streamlined its somewhat messy advertising offering into a single brand, Amazon Advertising.

Amazon’s key advantage is its deep understanding of consumer purchasing habits

Amazon Advertising’s model is based on the fact that around 49% of product searches in the US start on Amazon – and that offers invaluable insights into the minds of purchasers. While Google can store your implicit shopping intention, Amazon knows your actual purchasing behaviour – what you bought, when you bought it, how many clicks it took you and what other product categories you bought or considered at the same time. These insights can be used to create intelligent retargeting campaigns that showcases products that the consumer is more likely to buy at a specific time. With the drive towards Amazon Prime and the purchase of Whole Foods, those insights can become even more pertinent. Furthermore, ads on Amazon can be optimised within a matter of hours, allowing advertisers to drive a much higher return on their investment.

Advertisers are moving budgets from Google search into Amazon ads

It is these razor-sharp insights and real-time optimisation that are the headache for Google and Facebook, particularly the latter. Media agency executives have revealed that some

advertisers are moving more than half the budget that they would normally invest with Google Search (an estimated 83% of Google’s ad revenues) into Amazon ads, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. The brands in question are almost all from the consumer product goods category, whose products are sold on the Amazon platform, and are attracted by the offering discussed above as well as the seamless shopping experience: there’s no need to set up an account or input card details, as there might be with a Google search ad. Amazon is also unburdened by the fake news problems that have dogged Facebook and, as an apolitical space, it is unlikely to be leveraged as a political tool.

Will the lure of profit be at the expense of user experience?

It’s possible, even likely that Amazon will be bewitched by the huge profits that can be won from advertising, at the expense of the user experience. The purchasing behaviour data that Amazon has at its fingertips means that they can develop much better targeting tools than Facebook – and just as good as Google’s. Highly effective branding campaigns therefore become a reality, and while the consumer could find these at best a distraction and at worst disturbing, it will be difficult for Amazon to resist short-term profit for something in which it is unbeatable.

Google and Facebook are safe for now – but challenging times are ahead

Google and Facebook aren’t in any immediate danger. Amazon is a distant third in the triopoly: it commands 4.1% of digital ad spend in the US, compared to Facebook’s 20.6% and Google’s 37.1%. And while Google’s Search revenues may be flattening somewhat, some of the drift is going into other Google properties such as YouTube, and not just Amazon’s coffers. Furthermore, brands from very lucrative advertising categories such as automotive and travel don’t currently have much incentive to move any investment to Amazon as their products are not easily sellable on the platform.

Challenging times are ahead for Google and Facebook, in this and many respects. Amazon is certainly one to watch in this space.

Thumbnail image: Shutterstock

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