Whether it's Google Search, the Android software that runs most of the world's mobile devices, or the many Google Ad services, consumers are right to associate Google with the internet. However, recent reports suggests that Google is thinking of expanding to into new territory. Google is in the process of testing a feature overseas that could bring Google Ads to a billboard near you in the future.

The form of detailed ad targeting that fuels the internet has had a dramatic effect on the advertising world in general. It's true that radio stations, print publications, and TV channels regularly gather data about their audiences, which is used by advertisers to decide which ads go where. So ads have always been targeted. However, online ads are far more targeted because advertisers can target individual people based on their online behavior.  If Google can bring online levels of ad targeting to billboards, it could be a game-changer for outdoor advertising.

According to reports, Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., has a unit in talks in Germany about pushing into out-of-home advertising, such as billboards in stations, shopping centers and shop windows, based on reporting in WirtschaftsWoche. Many see this move as a precursor to similar expansions in the U.S. and the U.K.

While this may sound worrisome to privacy advocates, who already feel that online ads are too intrusive, the actual ads won't be personalized. Rather, Google can buy advertising space on digital billboards, then use that as another avenue to reach a targeted demographic at a certain time. For example, a billboard in a public space can be used for ads based on the type of people that are there during a certain time of day.

According to European tech columnist Alex Webb, "Google has been testing programmatic ad technology (in which trading algorithms bid against each other to secure digital space based on the target audience) for billboards since at least 2015."

As was mentioned earlier, Google has a lot of data that can be used to create highly-targeted ads online. While we traditionally think of this as data about web behavior, the millions of phones running Android also provide Google with a large amount of data about locations in the real world. Just as they can tell you when a business gets the most foot traffic, Google can probably give similar data for billboards and some demographic data about the people near them.

While all of this seems to suggest that Google can easily run billboard ads and that they would be useful for advertisers, there are a lot of small details that need to be worked out. Unlike the internet, where there are billions of privately owned websites competing for ad dollars, the number of billboards are limited. Furthermore, they may be owned/leased by other ad companies that may be wary of Google entering their market.

There's also the question of how will Google track the results of billboard ads. One of the benefits of online advertising is that you exactly how many times the ads was shown to an a target audience, how many people responded to the ad by clicking, and how many people bought something as a result. Tracking these kinds of results for billboard ads would be a challenge Google would have to overcome in order to easily show the ROI for advertisers who are used online ad metrics.

Either way, Google's overseas venture into billboard advertising is something to keep an eye on. It's only a matter of time before internet style ad targeting gets used for outdoor advertising. And Google getting in the mix could give business owners access to advertising methods that weren't easily available to them in the past.

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Published on: Aug 20, 2018
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