How Do Google Maps’ Local Ads Impact Campus Marketing?

Earlier this week Google announced that AdWords customers can now target mobile device owners within Google Maps. Besides reading the official announcement TechCrunch also has a good write-up so we’re not going to spend the time here to share how this works. What I would like to spend time discussing is the potential implications for campus mapping and campus marketing.

Google Maps is the #1 Mobile App

At the beginning of the year I wrote a post sharing that Google Maps is the #1 most popular mobile app. Google has done an incredible job offering a free service that provides incredible value. Smartphones with GPS and Google Maps installed have completely disrupted the personal navigation industry. Why would anyone pay $200 for a Garmin or TomTom for their car when their cell phone basically does the same thing? And because the maps are Google Maps they probably are more up to date and accurate. With maybe the exception of email there is no more powerful function of the smartphone than the navigation device. Because Google Maps is basically free they have dominated this market. But I think with this recent announcement we may be nearing the end of “free” and that leads us to our next point.

Google is a Business That is Out to Make a Profit

Google is first and foremost an advertising company. 96% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising. Why should they not tap this incredibly popular and valuable tool to generate revenue from it? They have slowly been doing the exact same thing with YouTube, and it hasn’t negatively impacted the use of that service so why should mapping be any different?

Last year when Apple’s iOS6 split away from using Google Maps by default we commented then about how this was a power struggle for control of the data and ultimately the rights to make advertising revenue through it.

Apple didn’t get into mapping to provide a better experience to users, they got into it to own the data and profit from it. As the WSJ article calls it, customers are paying a “strategy tax.”

Although ads are being rolled into the mobile app, ads have already had a large and growing presence on Google Maps. Have these ads influenced any of your purchasing or destination decisions in the past?

The top two ads here and the purple icon on the map are advertisements

The top two ads here and the purple icon on the map are advertisements

Marketers Don’t Want Others’ Advertisements On Their Services

Hey, we love what Google has done for online mapping just as much as anyone. If you are using a free Google map as part of your campus mapping efforts you have to ask yourself at what point are you no longer okay with them placing ads on it? I have no doubt that advertising will become more pervasive on Google’s mapping products just as it has on their search, Youtube and Gmail properties.

A while back we discussed the Pros and Cons of building an Interactive Map with Google Map Makers and we believe that this advertising creep has to find its way to the negative column. It is impossible to know how far Google will take advertising on their free services but we have to feel like it will continue to become more of a core part of the service.

What I think is always important to separate is the two different functions of an interactive campus map, wayfinding or marketing. For wayfinding purposes you really can’t get much better than Google’s offering so you are kind of left to deal with the ads. Now for marketing purposes you absolutely don’t want the ads just like you do not want “related videos” showing at the end of embedded YouTube videos that you might use for marketing. The only way to completely assure this is to not use Google Maps for marketing purposes.

We will continue to monitor and report on this as I’m sure this isn’t the end of this story.

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