Google has revolutionised how we find and consume content, democratised information and created a new type of celebrity through its YouTube creators.
The tech monolith has left an indelible mark on modern society—indeed shaped it—but with new waves of AI, cloud tech and social media providing tough competition, is Google under threat now more than ever before?
"While many celebrate Google’s rise from plucky upstart to web query giant this anniversary, others are focused on more interesting questions,” said Romain Job, Chief Strategy Officer at Equativ. “Amid tough competition from Gen AI innovators, there’s rising speculation around how the technology behemoth will evolve to defend its dominance—particularly what happens if Bard doesn’t see off rivals and become the new default search tool.”
Performance marketing has a lot to owe Google, which even named the new category. PMW speaks to ten marketers on Google’s origins, its impact on adland and whether it will last another 25 years.
How has Google helped shape the search, creator and advertising landscape?
“The marketing landscape, as we know it, owes a lot to Google,” said Kate Cox, CMO, BrightBid. “It invented a technology that gave marketers a direct line into customers’ purchase intent and found a simple and effective way to utilise that data.
“In the past 25 years, this model has had a significant impact on the economy. Currently, search (including Google as well as other providers) attracts 37% of ad spend in the UK, and accounted for over £13 billion (US$ 16.4) in 2022.
“While Google originally penned the term performance marketing to highlight its own unique approach, meaning all other channels were not performance-focused, it has since changed track. The company now recognises that search on its own can only capitalise on existing demand for a product or a service or steal market share from a competitor but not grow it across all categories. This puts pressure on the top of the sales funnel, which is why it's actively advocating other brand channels, like YouTube, to step in to feed this demand.
"Going forward, the challenge for marketers will be to accurately measure the impact of these combined tactics in driving customer and revenue growth in combination with more complex attribution techniques, Market Mix Modelling or incremental lift studies.”
Mark Barry, VP Sales and Managing Director at HubSpot, added: “Google democratised pricing; Google Ads lets you set your own budget in a real-time auction. And while all this complex ad-buying innovation is happening behind the scenes, consumers are blissfully unaware, enjoying a seamless search experience that keeps getting better—whether they're on desktop or mobile, whether they're typing or speaking.
“In short, Google Ads wasn’t just a game-changer; it created a paradigm shift in advertising and technology. It's not just about clicks; it's about crafting moments, exceeding expectations, and rewriting the rules of marketing.”
Google’s acquisition of YouTube was no doubt a milestone moment in its teen years, as it exerts greater influence across all customer touchpoints.
George Ince, Director of Influencer Marketing, BBD Perfect Storm Influence commented: “The world's first widely adopted video platform turned monetisation powerhouse, now an innovator at the intersection between search and influence… few would argue against Google being the most impactful company in shaping the creator economy since its acquisition of YouTube in 2006.”
Caspar Lee, Chief Vision Officer at Influencer and Google Pixel Ambassador, added: “Google’s 25 years have seen it grow from the OG search engine into a culture-leading tech company that builds, creates and houses industry-transforming tech products. It’s become a platform that spearheads innovation through its various consumer-facing touchpoints and leading technologies, acting as the catalyst in the evolution of creator-tech.
"Google has become a namesake brand and part of the cultural furniture as a result, remaining a shining example of innovation in the industry and rightfully earning its legendary status.”
How has Generative AI and social media affected Google's position in the industry?
“The real threat? Time,” HubSpot’s Barry noted. “If Google doesn't act swiftly, it risks squandering its massive influence capability. While Google started as the precocious disruptor (making the world's information universally accessible and useful) it has become the adult in the room, the incumbent, a target for disruption.
“Most people will know that modern mechanical flight (arguably the most profound innovation in globalisation, modernisation and communication after the printing press) was made possible by the Wright brothers. Nobody remembers, or perhaps even knows that the US government, despite having the brightest minds in science and business, with unlimited resources at their disposal working on the problem, failed to move fast enough (and we're beaten to the punch by two guys in their garage). So, the question isn't whether Google has the potential to dominate the AI-driven future—it's whether they'll seize the moment fast enough.”
Sarah Whitfield, CMO at Covatic also noted Google’s “painfully slow pace” and the challenge it has to stay on top. “Google has completed its ‘young adult’ stage as one of the internet’s most prolific players,” she said. “But to stay relevant for the next 25 years, both it and the digital advertising industry it serves will need to start showing real maturity.
“In such a crowded ecosystem, brands want to deliver engaging and ever more personalised ad experiences to consumers in order to stand out. The move to a more privacy-first approach – driven by consumer expectations and legislation – is also at odds with traditional digital advertising methods. While Google has recognised the need for change, the pace has been painfully slow.”
Paul Thompson, Country Manager at Seedtag, added : “After 25 years of search dominance, Google is facing – perhaps for the first time – a credible threat to its hugely profitable advertising business with the emergence of generative AI and a reordering of how people access and consume information on the web. No doubt the recent moves by Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai to merge the AI teams, reflects efforts to ensure that Google continues to innovate and build products around Large Language Models ahead of the competition. However, it is no longer a foregone conclusion that the transition from search to AI-driven search will be as profitable, or whether rivals like ChatGPT and Microsoft will catch up and supersede the current ‘blue links’ organic search model.”
Emma Lacey, SVP EMEA at Zefr, said: “Getting to 25 years old is no mean feat in tech, and Google has been able to achieve this milestone by focusing on innovation and staying ahead of the curve. How it will tackle the internet's next epoch will be just as fascinating.”
“As arguably the pioneer of making user generated content discoverable online, it inevitably follows that Google needs to be serious when it comes to funding legitimate content and keeping users safe. With the amount of content online set to explode due to generative AI tools and new legislation like the Online Safety Bill incoming, it will need to leverage the best technologies to not only ensure it stays ahead, but also to hold other platforms to account.”
Leading a cookieless future or losing out to smaller rivals?
With another huge calendar date for Google approaching next year, Geoffroy Martin, CEO, Ogury commented on the cookie deprecation. “With only 41% of advertisers being moderately aware of alternative targeting methods to cookies, the industry is in need of a major overhaul, with solutions to match the scale of the privacy challenge,” he said.
“While Google’s Privacy Sandbox aims to provide relief in the cookieless future, brands should be cautious about becoming overly reliant on one partner. Brands and media agencies should use the coming months as an opportunity to equip themselves with the right tools and partners that can support them, as another key date for Google is approaching: in less than six months, Google will begin its long-awaited deprecation of third-party cookies."
For publishers, their relationship with Google is somewhat rocky. Nick Morgan, Founder and CEO at Vudoo, explained: “Google has had a longstanding polarising relationship with publishers, which has only intensified since the recent introduction of generative AI search, decreasing the traffic that Google sends to publishers’ sites.
“Publishers need to think laterally and resteer into blue ocean space [open web]. There is now technology out there that can allow users to make purchases on site through a single piece of video or image content, without leaving the page they are engaging with. As a result, publishers can regain ownership of their ad revenues and keep users on site.”
Will Google last another 25 years?
“Absolutely!” confirmed Barry. “Maybe not in the same form, but let's be clear: Google isn't just a cash cow with a vault of intellectual property. It's a powerhouse with a soul and incredibly smart people behind it. Google doesn't just believe it's a force for good—it knows it. Committed to driving social progress, championing equity and inclusion, and spearheading tech innovations that uplift humanity, Google is built to withstand seismic shifts.”
Covatic’s Whitfield added: “Going forward, Google’s popular, efficient services will still hold some appeal for advertisers—especially in tough economic times. However, disruption often forces brands to find alternative solutions, and this will open the door for smaller players on a mission to improve marketing in more creative ways.”
Equativ’s Job concluded: “Analysts agree that Alphabet's efforts to diversify have faced fierce competition in the cloud tech and AI markets and Google Advertising revenue remains essential to the group investment strategy. At the same time, united calls from EU and US legislators for a break up of the wider Google advertising ecosystem could mean much-needed concessions that better enable independent players to support open programmatic transactions; ultimately helping the open web to thrive and share a larger piece of the cake.
“Whatever happens, however, it’s likely big changes will arrive long before the next major milestone, possibly as soon as 2024.”