In Fear & Loathing in the Ad Technology Stack (3/8/11), TOTSB posted about the latent dangers of having a tag management platform provided by the same vendor as the site analytics solution. Since then, IBM CoreMetrics joined the fray with their Digital Data Exchange solution. Earlier this week, the other and much bigger shoe dropped as Google announced their new free Tag Manager. With this latest development, it seemed like a good time to talk about the foolish handling of digital customer data, which may as well be money.

How Does It Work?

Signing-up for Google Tag Manager is easy enough and takes just a few minutes. Digital marketers can even "opt-out" of sharing their data anonymously for benchmarking purposes. However, this is a classic faux bone being thrown out by Google that is revealed on a subsequent screen. Later, users learn that are agreeing to share their data with DoubleClick, Google's advertising business and signing-up for AdWords, too.
 


Meanwhile, on the final screen you can add then add some tags. Conveniently this screen is pre-populated with Google's Ad Words, DoubleClick Floodlight and Google Analytics tags. Supposedly other tags will be coming soon with such drag-and-drop simplicity. It is not clear that Google Tag Manager is server-server with the other Google  products yet but when that does happen, certainly it will be positioned as a speed benefit. Nevermind the looming centralized consolidated Google master cookie.

The Trojan Horse
Considering the success of Google's model of free analytics and past ethical challenges as modus operandi, this should not be a big surprise. If you weren't already sharing your data with the Google datamining machine, now there is one more way for them to get even more breadth of data capture. Combined with their the search, free email, social and display media business, Google is sealing up the entire digital stack. That means they also have maximum depth, i.e. the full picture of cause and effect. It is this rich, vast global data set that Google's engineers have trained their sights on and let's face it - it is a brilliant strategy.
 


At the same time, for most Tag Management System vendors this is a really big problem. The reality is that most digital marketer's aren't technically savvy enough to realize the free Google stack is a digital data Trojan Horse. Most of them have invested in non-server-server cookie-based solutions that cannot compete with a server-side cloud-based architecture. Google will now commence to eat lesser TMS' lunch. Ironically, many digital marketers are using a paid TMS to deliver their free Google Analytics. Even if digital marketers decide to forgo Google Analytics and upgrade to a real enterprise solution (not a fake one like Premium), they still have a hole in the data bucket thanks to Tag Manager. Let's just call it their data collection hedge.

The High Cost of "Free"
Most digital marketers have been blissfully unaware of the actual game that they are playing for years under the auspices of free and easy-to-use. Perpetuated by self-appointed experts and others, there is a notion that espouses that analytics technology should be cheap and that it is more valuable to have a well-funded well-paid analytics people than an expensive tool. The above meme is so Google. It is self-serving and self-reinforcing as it works especially well for the cottage industry of certified implementers and analysts. Unfortunately, it usually means weak display media measurement, gaping holes in data security/intellectual property control and potentially privacy concerns. It could also mean inadvertently feeding your competition while Google makes a buck off of it.

The layers of conflicts of interest are deep and include:

  • Google Remarketing is conveniently baked into Google Analytics these days; the Google advertising cookie and the Google Analytics site cookie have been one and the same for some time now.
  • Google Analytics overstates Paid Search performance
  • Google recently changed how referral data is passed on  landing pages obfuscating search performance
  • Google has thrown a bone on fractional attribution via Google Analytics and now DoubleClick Analytics, their credibility as an independent arbiter of their own performance is questionable

Being Ethically Challenged About Others' Intellectual Property


Digital Marketer's Fasutian Bargain
The question for today's digital marketers considering Tag Manager is the same as the Google Analytics question: Does sharing your company's most valuable asset (customer's behavioral data) with the best datamining conglomerate in the world worth more than the cost of the alternatives? For many smaller companies the answer could be yes, but for most advertisers the answer should be - thanks but no thanks.With smarmy analytics gurus and a cottage industry of Certified Google Analytics lackeys, smart advertisers need to really start paying attention to how much data they are really sharing with a company that Sir Martin Sorrel best referred to as a "frenemy." way back in 2007.


Google's latest self-serving, 3-for-me and 1-for-you offering should motivate digital marketers to think differently about their value of their data, how much they trust others with it and what they need to do next to securely and exclusively control their data. So much for do no evil.

How to Remove Google from your Ad Stack
As an advertiser-oriented analytics consultant, I cannot think of any reason that Google products are appropriate except for small businesses and the truly ignorant. Savvy digital marketers do have other alternatives, but you will have to go out of your way and it won't be free. Get used to using common-sense and ROI/TCO analysis to justify technology investments or get used to sharing your lunch.

Here are some thought-starters:

  • Tag Management. Best choice at this point: BrightTag. Yes, I am an advisor. However, the reason I am is because only BrightTag has looked beyond tags on pages to the underlying problem of data. Unlike the other TMS platforms, BT has already a few years into developing a powerful tool and scalable cloud infrastructure to offer digital marketer's a real alternative to Google's subtle data glom. And these days, most everyone that matters is server-server integrated with BT...except of course (wait for it...)...Google's products.
  • Analytics: Adobe, ComScore's Digital Analytix and if you must IBM CoreMetrics
  • Ad Server: MediaMind, Pointroll, MediaPlex and if you must Atlas......not Google Analytics
  • Search Management: Kenshoo, Adobe, Marin...anything but DART Search
  • Attribution: Adometry, Visual IQ have better methodologies...C3, Convertro, Clearsaling...not Google Analytics or DFA.
  • Demand Side Platform: MediaMath, Turn, DataXu...not Bid Manager.

The truth of the matter should be getting clearer. If not, bring in independent viewpoints that are not invested in this madness.

For publishers this is a much more complex proposition and the subject of a future post.