Ever since it bought the display-ad serving system DoubleClick in 2007, Google has been steadily buying up more pieces of the online ad-buying process beyond its core search ads. But it has had one huge hole: social ads. With the rise of advertising on Facebook and Twitter, Google has been left completely out of the picture when it comes to offering marketers a way to get in front of people when they’re on social networks and use data on what they’re doing there to improve the relevance of its ads.
Today, it started to remedy that situation with the acquisition of Wildfire Interactive, which brands such as Virgin and Gilt Groupe manage their social-media marketing, from placing ads to managing fan pages. I’m checking to see what the undisclosed purchase price was, though AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka says his sources tell him it was around $250 million.
It’s not yet certain whether Wildfire, which reportedly was also courted by Facebook itself, will get Google deeply into the social ad game, since fan pages, promotions, and messaging, not ads, were the main focus for the company. But Google now will get access to lots of data on user behavior on social sites, providing an even broader view of the interaction between users and brands than it’s already getting via its Google+ social network and, of course, its YouTube video service.
But Google is in the unaccustomed position of coming in late to the social marketing acquisition frenzy. Salesforce.com snatched Buddy Media, another social media marketing firm, from Google’s clutches for $689 million in early June. Oracle bought Vitrue in May for $300 million.
What’s more, it’s not clear how Facebook, so far the big kahuna of social, will respond. It no doubt would invite antitrust scrutiny if it suddenly began making it harder for Wildfire to participate in Facebook marketing. But Facebook holds tight control of its platform, so this move seems likely to put the two companies in even closer combat.
But it’s clear from Google’s blog post on the purchase that it intends to embed Wildfire’s features into its display-ad “stack” of technologies:
The ultimate goal is better and fresher content, and more meaningful interactions. People today can make their voices heard in ways that were previously impossible, and Wildfire helps businesses uphold their end of the conversation (or spark a new one).
In a complex and changing landscape, businesses want to manage and measure these efforts in an integrated way. We’ve been working towards this end for some time. For example, Google Analytics helps businesses measure the contribution of hundreds of social sites; our Admeld service has helped to serve ads in Facebook developers’ social apps; and our DoubleClick platform enables clients to run and measure ads across social websites. On Google+, brands use services like Vitrue, Buddy Media and others to manage their pages, with many more to come.
Wildfire had raised $14 billion in funding. It has 400 employees.