Buy or Bury the Competition

All those who grew up in the 80′s and the 90′s (no offence to the lil’ ones) think of only one thing when someone says ‘Ad Wars’ – Pepsi vs. Coca Cola. It all started with Pepsi’s campaign ‘Let your Taste Decide’ which led to more than a decade long fighting spree, later to be known as the ‘Cola Wars’.

Cola Wars


With the rise of the internet, these Ad Wars were not only restricted to the main stream media but occupied the wide spread internet market as well. The best example would be the ‘Get a Mac’ campaign from Apple which ran from 2006 to 2009. These campaigns were created by TBWA\Media Arts Lab which ran not only on TV but covered a lot of Web space.

Would Microsoft take this softly? No way! Microsoft’s ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky created the “I’m a PC” advertising campaign in late 2008 which featured a host of celebrities endorsing the PC, starting off with “Hello. I am a PC and I have been made into a stereotype.”

Whether it is Samsung’s Galaxy S II ‘Next Big Thing’ campaign vs. Apple, or Audi’s ‘Escape the confines of old luxury’ campaign vs. Mercedes, the list is endless. This type of marketing process where comparison of products is done against direct market competitors with an aim to claim advantage is called as Comparative Advertising. While many believe it is a powerful marketing tool to create brand awareness and to differentiate your product vis-a-vis your competitor’s products, others believe it to be nothing but foul play.

So when I read:
“Number one, cash is king… number two, communicate… number three, buy or bury the competition.”

I thought Jack Welsh couldn’t be more right! In the world of Internet Marketing, Content is the King but in the beautiful kingdom of Search Engine Marketing, Cash is the king.

When you are running an SEM campaign, you have to live by one simple rule:

Ad Rank = Quality Score x Bids

Take the example of the Cola Wars, both the companies are leading players in the market and we can safely assume that if they are out to sell Colas, both the players will have a pretty good Quality Score. Then how does one rank over the other? Or ensures that their ad is shown in the top slot? The answer is Bids. So, cash will not only help you in bidding but will also help you in scaling up your campaign.

But what if you are not the market leader but a small Cola company based in one single metro trying to compete for ad space within your metro? Here content comes to your rescue. By designing simple yet creative ads, the mighty content will help you in building your Quality Score. The more content rich, interactive and assertive your ads, the more you communicate and better will be your Quality Score. Now, what about competition?

‘Buy or bury your competition’, this sounds as if it is straight out of a Mafia movie but should we follow this MO in SEM? With the above examples, one can rightly argue that the main aim of comparative advertising is not to bring your competitor down but to educate the user how one product is different from the other. However, it often takes shape in the form of “negative” messages. But who are we to decide what is right and what is wrong. In the colossal arena of marketing, even the respectable companies do not hesitate in showing ad immaturity. After all, a user’s loyalty is at stake and up for grabs.

These Ad Wars are no longer restricted to main stream media. I personally have experience of dealing with clients who want to ensure that their ads are shown all the time and on the top position. I was bombarded with questions such as “how can I have 100% impression share?” Or, “if I put in more budget, will my lost impression share due to budget go down to 0%?” Or, “if my ads run in 1st position all the time, will I have the maximum visibility?” My problem is I can’t lie. I could have easily said yes, yes and yes to all the three questions but that would be against my ethics.

And here is why, these metrics are called ‘Competitive Metrics’. The ‘Impression Share’, ‘Lost IS (budget)’, ‘Lost IS (rank)’, ‘Exact Match IS’ constitute the ‘Competitive Metrics’. To quote Google, “think of the online advertising landscape as a delicious pie. You and your competitors are each trying to grab the biggest slice of that pie. By tracking your impression share metrics, you’re keeping tabs on the size of your slice compared to the rest of the pie, which is being divided up and eaten by your competition!” Now tell me, can you ever have 100% impression share? I think not.

Let me relate it to my above examples. No matter how much Pepsi or Coca Cola tried, one couldn’t take up the entire market. Yes, experts say Coca Cola won the Cola War and the Pepsi’s percentage user base has declined but not everyone drinks Coca Cola. After all, it all comes down to the user’s choice.

It is simple Math; these metrics are all percentages of your market/vertical. So logically speaking you can’t have 100% Impression Share because you aren’t the only one bidding on these keywords. Occasionally, you might see a 100% in your dashboard, but I am pretty sure that keyword is something only you are bidding on, now do you really want that?? Same goes for the other metrics as well.

It is all a vicious circle. Coca Cola for now might have surged beyond Pepsi in sales but who knows what might happen tomorrow. You are not the only fish swimming in the ocean right. Let’s take a hypothetical situation. You see that you are losing say about 50% of your impressions share due to budget. What would be your first reaction? OMG! After that, as a general tendency, you will definitely think of pulling in more resources. And maybe for the next 2 weeks you will see a 30% loss.

Wait up. Your 10% rise in impression means 10% loss of your competitor. So what will he do? He also notices that his lost impression share is 40% and he enter the ad war. What do you think will happen? Both you and your competitor will pull in more and more money each week and well we all know who is making the money. Did anyone think, how much money was spent in the Cola War? Or how much did Pepsi pay to show an ad in prime time slot during Super Bowl?

But don’t start thinking that you can ignore these metrics. These metrics are highly essential to your marketing campaign. Someone rightly said; keep your friends close but your enemies closer. These metrics provided by Google, offer great insights. It helps you understand where you stand currently in the market and where you were two months back. And talking about great insights, not too long ago, Google rolled out auction insights which give you inside information from Google’s own Auction studies. Oh how I would kill to know everything!

So when you look at these metrics, don’t allow them to make you uneasy or force you to pump in money and scale up your account but allow them to help you strategize wisely. Based on your account’s performance observe and determine if you have this in mind:

    • Create a Brand
      Impression shares matter but in my opinion only for branding. As these are competitive metrics do not optimize your account based on the overall account statistics. Identify the goal of each of your campaigns in the account and based on the same optimize. If the goal of your campaign is to brand, then by all means aim for 100% for that campaign
    • Which keyword set offers you an impression share with good ROI
      Yes it matters to showcase your ad and to get traffic to your website but will this matter if it is not leading to any revenue? In the end, the main aim of your marketing campaign is to push up the revenue
    • Which ad positions work for you
      Experiment. Experiment. Experiment. Never hesitate in experimenting and learn from your mistakes. Try out various ad positions for different themes in your campaigns and based on the same optimize. For few of my clients, I have seen amazing ROI at lower positions and high ERS on high position.


A simple doubt still lingers in my mind. How reliable do you think these metrics are? Google itself says,”impression share is based on an estimate of when your ad was competitive in the auction”. Well there you go; it is an estimate not the real deal. So tomorrow if you are faced with these same questions as I am, you can easily reply, “We should do what is working in favor of our account.”

In my opinion, do not rely heavily on these competitive metrics while you are optimizing your account. The only time you should be considering these metrics is when you are running a competitor analysis and are trying to figure out where exactly you stand because ultimately Google has always maintained that it has the user’s best interest at heart!

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