Is Google today's incarnation of Alan Freed, the 1950s R&B disc jockey accused of taking payments to play certain songs? TechCrunch cites anonymous sources suggesting something like that.
"There are incentives," admits a Google spokesperson. "I don't now that there is a wad of cash," he adds, "payments are predicated on a bunch of things." Those things are more along the lines of investing in the trading platform, co-marketing, and training if Publicis and Vivaki hit certain milestones. "There is no commission being paid," says the Google spokesperson. So there are payments, but they are framed as technology incentives to help Vivaki test and prove out its exchange.
It should also be noted that the TechCrunch story is weighted with a big, fat weasel paragraph acknowledging the reporter has no direct evidence anything untoward is going on at Google.Any suggestion that Publicis is accepting payments from Google in return for driving online ad spending through Google is "an utter crock of shit," he says. He adds, "That is illegal in the U.S."
Direct rebates would be a big no-no and could raise antitrust concerns. It would mean that Google is essentially buying market share in display advertising. If its rising share in display is based on better performance then that is fine. But if there were some sort of financial incentive for Publicis (or any other ad agency) to throw display ad spending its way, that would raises all sorts of concerns. The question would be whether Google could pay such rebates because it is making a higher profit from its display ads than competitors, or whether it is using its profits from search advertising to fund the growth in display in this manner. If it were the latter (and, again, to be clear, there is no evidence other than anonymous hearsay that this is happening), that could have antitrust implications, especially if this rebate practice extended to other ad agency DSPs.