A few days spent asking some questions among marketers in the nation’s capital suggested that Google’s departure is causing many to cast a more probing eye on its homegrown rival.
Advertisers were not happy with the prospect of having a large piece of their digital marketing held captive by a monopoly player. Rumours were already surfacing about the possibility that Baidu would begin raising rates. News from inside Baidu did not help: the sudden departure of two of its senior executives and Baidu’s decision to wade into the hyper-competitive and politically-fraught online video business raised concerns that the local search giant might lose its focus on the search ad business.
Beijing-based marketers also said they believed that without a strong competitor, Baidu would be unmotivated to improve its offerings, its practices, and its value to advertisers. Lacking the prod of a Google, they reasoned, why would Baidu invest more in search?
I learned a lesson early in my career: competition is not only good for customers; it is also good for competitors. Several companies selling a product or service demand us to ask: “Which vendor should I choose, and how much budget do I have for this?” But a single company selling a product requires us to ask: “Who are these guys?”
To be sure, there are other players (Sogou is one, and QQ parent Tencent is known to be testing a search engine) and it is possible that one will rise to take Google’s place.
But for many advertisers in China, Google’s departure will force a re-evaluation of the role search advertising plays in our marketing plans, and the earnest effort to find more creative and effective ways to spend our online dollars.
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This article was originally published in the 28 January 2010 issue of Media.