Hitting the Mark

I've always liked raccoons' affinity for shiny things. I find it sort of endearing that these rugged, resourceful omnivores will gather up brilliant baubles for aesthetic appeal alone. I can relate. Sometimes I'll find myself almost incomprehensibly drawn to something and, when pressed to explain, I can only muster a single-word response: shiny.

Google's announcement that it was launching its very own Video Store dazzled a lot of folks. While the interface is anything but high-gloss (in fact, it is so understated—like all things Google—it's almost silly), this "search engine's" further push into media-mogul territory captured a whole lot of attention. Now that Google has not only taken on the biggies but joined their ranks, it isn't surprising that it will counter Apple's iTunes success with a stream mall of its own. Still, streaming video is hot, hot, hot, and a lot of ink (e- and otherwise) will be spilled analyzing this move and the populist approach Google has taken by putting "Joe's home movies" on a virtual shelf right next to super-successful television series.

Yet right on the heels of the launch of the Google Video Store, the company announced plans to acquire dMarc Broadcasting, Inc., a Newport Beach, California-based digital solutions provider for the radio broadcast industry. The plan, as Google has deigned to reveal it thus far, is to leverage dMarc's automated radio advertising expertise to provide further outlets for Google AdWords customers. While this acquisition lacks the sheen of the Video Store launch, it too has sparked some speculation about Google's intentions.

A superficial glance shows the Web's most prolific innovator (according to the Google Blog, the company introduced 77 new products and services in 2005) and one of the world's most active acquirers balancing its online-only interests by adding an offline company to its stable. The vast majority of industry watchers have taken Google at its (Ad)word, interpreting company VP of advertising Tim Armstrong's statement that "Google is committed to exploring new ways to extend targeted, measurable advertising to other forms of media" and to "bring new ad dollars and accountability to radio" as signaling its move to bring a new model to an old medium and make radio advertising more measurable. The interpretation is not unfounded, particularly given Google's recent partnership with CBS television for the Video Store and much quieter moves into print advertising, buying and reselling space in newspapers and magazines. In fact, many hope that Google can extend its accountable, trackable, and most importantly, popular AdWords approach to media that are on the advertising-revenue decline: newspapers, magazines, and television.

While it makes sense to provide additional low-cost outlets for its AdWords customers, and even though it would even be exciting to breathe new life into traditional media, we've come to expect more from Google—a company that averaged about one-and-a-half new product releases per week last year. That kind of innovation doesn't stem simply from touchy-feely corporate culture or wicked-cool recruitment tactics. It also comes from recognizing that certain companies out there have stuff Google wants—be it market access, specific technology, expertise, or the people who possess the knowledge and know-how to put this stuff to work.

Despite Google's assertions that the dMarc acquisition is about expanding its AdWords universe, I can't help but sense larger wheels turning in the background. I'm not alone in wondering about this natively digital company's move into ancient offline media, but that wasn't my first thought when I read about Google's dMarc acquisition plans. dMarc's tag line is "innovation through automation." This is a company that puts innovation at the top of its to-do list. dMarc provides digital solutions to the radio broadcast industry, focusing on advertising solutions. Digital advertising solutions—a cozy fit with AdWords, to be sure. However, the company's core asset may actually be its knowledge about technologically advancing radio machinations. In its leadership team, the company has more than 50 years of radio industry experience, combined with cutting-edge efforts in online advertising management, trafficking, and distribution for a century-old medium.

dMarc's history is chock-full of start-ups that innovated and got acquired. In 1994, it founded AdForce, a company that pioneered online advertising management systems, and sold the company less than a year after going public in 1999. In 1998, dMarc management launched an online advertising sales and media group, 2CAN Media, which was sold to CMGI. Clearly, this management team has a proven track record of creative and lucrative leadership.

So is Google just another wealthy suitor for dMarc's brainchildren? Or are we all simply attracted to the superficial glint of Google's latest catch? One thing not mentioned in any of the press releases or interviews I've seen on the acquisition is this enticing gem of a fact: dMarc's management team is part of the deal. Unlike previous dMarc develop-and-sell deals, those in leadership roles will join the Google ranks. In gaining the intellectual capital behind dMarc, Google may just take its stock prices, which markedly dulled the same week it announced the acquisition, and polish them back up to a nice bright shine.