Google has probably already played a vital role in your festive season this year, from a good old ‘naff Christmas socks’ search, to gift comparisons using Google Shopping, then making that homemade decoration instructed by someone on YouTube.
And with eMarketer predicting that mobile search and mobile display spend will both surpass desktop in the UK next year, despite ROI lagging, Google looks set to ring in this Christmas comfortably atop of the tree in mobile ads too. With that in mind, we asked the industry: can any company other than Google win Christmas?
"With Google's more than 30 per cent share in digital media, they remain the first port of call for any campaign," says Ed Chater, SVP adtech at Somo. "Their monopoly in search and dominance in video with YouTube make them essential for any major brand, especially around Christmas."
"That the majority of paid search budgets will be spent with Google goes without doubt, and the development of the Google Shopping Feed will be a big selling point for them this Christmas," agrees Neil Bruce, UK head of mobile at Mindshare. "Last year, we saw a record increase in revenues coming from paid search activity, and we fully anticipate this trend to continue this Christmas, with an even greater emphasis on mobile. It drove just shy of 37 per cent of all paid search clicks, and I would anticipate this year’s share being at around 45 per cent."
"Things are changing in mobile though," says Chater. "Google is losing share at the macro level, according to eMarketer. On mobile web, it remains dominant but if we were able to segment the data into just the app market then I'd place bets we'd see a different picture, with Facebook having 60 per cent-plus market share. Why is this significant?
"As Flurry and Comscore data has shown, apps are where people spend the majority of their time on mobile. Therefore, if I was a developer of a mobile app arguably I don't need Google to reach my customer at Christmas. This is significant as you couldn't say the same if you were the owner of a desktop site."
Thomas Husson, VP and principal analyst of marketing and strategy at Forrester, points to Facebook for app install answers. "It would be difficult to do Christmas without Google, but a lot of the mobile ad spend does flow to Facebook via their mobile app installs format - because they were smarter and faster in tapping into the potential of social app discovery."
"The battleground that I think will be the most interesting this Christmas is in mobile video spend," Mindshare's Bruce says. "The latest IAB UK spend figures for H1 2014 showed massive mobile video growth of 196 per cent - and this growth has been underpinned by the battle between YouTube and Facebook for mobile video budget. YouTube has first mover advantage, but Facebook is closing the gap quickly. I would anticipate Facebook continuing to erode YouTube’s market share this Christmas."
And even in Google's bread and butter sector, search, Bruce says there's competition. "I do believe that Google will be looking at Amazon with a fair degree of trepidation. An L2 Research report has shown that 30 per cent of online shoppers start their search on Amazon, whereas it's just 13 per cent on Google."
But Google is standing tall. "If Black Friday is any indication, we’re bracing for a busy Christmas online, possibly the most mobile Christmas ever," Peter Cory, Google sales director, explains. "So it's crucial for advertisers to be where their audience is - online. We’re focusing on search, display, and video this Christmas to help advertisers compete for mobile customers with shopping and location-based ads, increased app downloads and app engagement, and better use of YouTube to drive brand power and influence."
And Husson believes that, wherever the money is going this Christmas, most brands will still underinvest in mobile next year. “For brands to make the most of their mobile advertising investments, it is critical they think first in terms of delivering a contextualised and personalised mobile-centric experience to serve their customers in their mobile moments. If they don't, there is no way they can get a good return on investment.”
Unlike the Grinch, Google probably doesn't hate the holidays, in fact, it's probably the company's most lucrative time of year. Given we're now celebrating an always-on, hyper-corporatised Christmas, Google is almost unavoidable, for both time-poor shoppers and frazzled ad execs, but it's clear Facebook is not too far behind.
Santa must be spinning in his grave.