Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Google, Facebook Call an Ad Tech Truce: DoubleClick Is Coming to the Facebook Exchange


Google and Facebook are the Web’s biggest advertising heavyweights, and fierce rivals.

So it wasn’t surprising that when Facebook launched its Facebook Exchange ad-selling platform in 2012, it ended up working with just about everyone in ad tech except for Google.

But now that is changing. Google announced today that its DoubleClick unit will soon be working with Facebook Exchange, which lets advertisers show ads to Facebook users based on their travels outside of Facebook’s pages.

In English: Facebook is going to sell ads to Google’s ad buyers.

In the ad tech world, this is a very big deal. DoubleClick is a dominant force, and Facebook Exchange has provided ad buyers with a huge new source of inventory, so putting them together has big advantages for both sides.

Both Google and Facebook are downplaying the move, though. Google announced the news with a four-paragraph blog post, and Facebook has contributed a two sentence non-comment: “We are happy that Google is joining Facebook Exchange. We think that relevant ads, targeted to the right people, are good for people and businesses.”

Google has confirmed that its entry into Facebook isn’t a test, and that its DoubleClick buyers won’t face any restrictions compared to other customers at other ad tech vendors. It’s the real deal.

So the real question is: Why is this happening now, 16 months after Facebook Exchange’s launch?

The answers I’ve gotten from people who are paid to convey opinions for both companies aren’t illuminating. One line of argument that is thoroughly unconvincing: Hey, we’ve worked together in the past! And we already bought Wildfire, which helps marketers manage their presence on Facebook!

But Facebook wasn’t super excited about the fact that Google bought Wildfire — it just couldn’t do anything about it. And there’s a big difference between grudgingly working together out of necessity, and making a big shift in the way you do business.

So what changed? I’ll just speculate here and throw out some obvious conclusions: Either Google has made concessions to Facebook to get access to Facebook’s inventory, or Facebook has decided that working with its biggest competitor is better than shutting it out. Or both.

Update: My super-smart colleague Jason Del Rey points me to a story he wrote in August 2012, noting that Facebook was getting grief from big ad buyers about excluding Google from its platform. That supports the “Facebook, not Google, concedes” argument.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik