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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Did Microsoft Help Write ANA Letter Opposing Yahoo-Google Deal?

When I read about the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) letter opposing the Yahoo-Google advertising deal, I wanted to read the letter. I can't. It's private. Note the update at the bottom of this Search Engine Land post:
Those looking for an actual copy of the letter can keep waiting. I contacted ANA for it and was told the letter was sent out "privately." When I pointed out that a letter sent to a public body was going to become part of the public record, I was told that this was up to the Department Of Justice to do. Strange -- why doesn't ANA just publish the letter?
Then I read SearchQuant's caveman post where he notes that Microsoft has three employees on the ANA direct marketing committee. Hmm, Google and Yahoo don't appear to even be members of the ANA. Today, in fact, that committee has a member open discussion with this topic:
In June 2008, Google and Yahoo reached an agreement that allows Yahoo to run ads supplied by Google, alongside Yahoo search results. It is estimated that Google's share of searches is 60+%, and Yahoo draws about 17% share of searches. Yahoo expects the agreement to generate an estimated $250-$450Million in incremental cash flow. The deal is currently in front of the Senate's Antitrust Subcommittee. What will the impact of this partnership be to advertisers?
Why would the ANA have an "open" discussion about the Google-Yahoo ad deal when they've already sent a "closed" letter to the DOJ arguing against the deal? Perhaps Microsoft is using the ANA to push its agenda? If large advertisers fight the deal, that might be more convincing to the DOJ than Microsoft complaining. Note this quote from a WSJ article:
As they weigh comments from outsiders, regulators often discount the views of competitors who complain about a deal, as Microsoft has done. They are likely, however, to listen closely to customers, in this case major advertisers, so the association's letter could be a significant hurdle.

Microsoft and Michael Kassan, a longtime advertising and media executive who is now consulting for the company, have been lobbying Madison Avenue's advertising and media-buying executives, as well as marketers, to oppose the Yahoo-Google alliance, according to ad executives...

Mr. Liodice says that while Microsoft raised its concerns about the deal, that wasn't the reason ANA chose to scrutinize the agreement. "We don't want to have anyone think that Microsoft was the instigator or influencer" of this action, he said.
Did Microsoft help write the ANA letter? I think it's a reasonable question. What the ANA says about the letter on its site doesn't sound very persuasive. It states (emphasis mine):
ANA google yahoo ad deal letterThe ANA has sent a letter to Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), citing its objections to the announced Google-Yahoo search advertising partnership now under review by the DOJ. In preparing this letter, ANA conducted a comprehensive, independent analysis, which included input from the Board’s members and face-to-face discussions with Google and Yahoo.

The letter, authorized by the ANA Board, notes that a Google-Yahoo partnership will control 90 percent of search advertising inventory and states ANA’s concerns that the partnership will likely diminish competition, increase concentration of market power, limit choices currently available and potentially raise prices to advertisers for high quality, affordable search advertising.
The keywords in that statement are "likely" and "potentially" which makes me wonder what they really know. Also, how "independent" can the ANA be with Microsoft as a member but neither Yahoo nor Google listed as ANA members? Hmm, I'm not even sure that Google or Yahoo are eligible to be members. What about Microsoft? Particularly since they bought a digital advertising agency, do they fit the criteria? Regarding membership eligibility, the ANA site says:
ANA membership is corporate, not individual, and open to client-side marketing corporations only (advertising, promotion, PR agencies, media companies, and consultants are not eligible for membership).
How much influence did Microsoft have in writing this private letter? I'll be curious to read the letter when it becomes public. If anyone's at the ANA meeting today, let me know how the discussion goes.

Final note: Re-reading SearchQuant's insightful post, I was curious about the Microsoft employees on the ANA direct marketing committee. One's title is listed as: Director, Global Agency Management. Another recently wrote an article entitled Why Search Doesn't Really Matter. O RLY?

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