It is starting to get cold and rainy now in France albeit with some nice strokes of Sunshine over Paris in this month of December. It feels like France has woken up during this last quarter of the year, as if the slight signs of economic recovery had given the entire digital economy a disproportionate faith in Christmas sales and a firm belief in the year to come. France is of course also at war in Africa and at war against unemployment, so plenty of challenges in this cold season where the country is set to surpass the level of 1000 redundancy plans for the year 2013. Arrgh.
For those who remember our Q3 account of the French market, Criteo IPO’ed very successfully and historical SEO agency “1ere position” finally did not fully recover but was sold instead. I am quite sure, however, that this was not an illustration of remarketing beating search. Rather, it was the performance model of a technology company winning over the consultancy model of a traditional agency. Ever since the start of our series of economic crises in 2008, French advertisers have preferred short-term over long-term and performance over … reason. There is this bad habit of trying to put performance everywhere and then finding out that the sum of performance in all your channels is not performance at the aggregate level. The solution to that problem is of course a concept called attribution which has been around since before 2008. We can only hope 2014 brings some better balance into attribution models, as they are today favouring the one and only – the glorious and victorious – the winner-takes-all … last click.
“Stop thinking with your feet” as the French CEO of Valueclick recently wrote in an article, referring to the bottom of the conversion funnel. “And start thinking with your heads…”, that is, use creativity, content and images to build your brand. Timing for this message seems right. There is some light perceived at the end of the tunnel and delirious performance demands are getting out of hand. I recently gave a straight “no” to a prospect asking for his online campaigns to be fully performance-based for a site that wasn’t even launched yet. I also exchanged with a “Digital consultant” who was suggesting the best means of advertising to re-launch a brand online was remarketing…. I suppose that would be due to the great performance of site retargeting, but hmm, it seems rather awkward to target people you already know when you want your brand to get known to people who precisely “have not” been to your site.
So Search was not beaten and still represents around 50% of online marketing investment but it clearly feels like SEO has taken a hit in the French market after the unleashing of the Google beasts and fowls. There is a dawning movement of Content Marketing solutions ranging from content-driven media networks (CCM-benchmark and Pure media), content producers (Href, Nouveau Net and more), content/social media agencies (ex Yourastar) and a new breed of content marketing agencies . But the market has not taken the shift yet. There seems to be a declining demand for SEO and for link building – out of fear, out of doubt and perhaps because agencies are still telling a pre-penguin story. But advertisers have only to a limited extent started to realize how a content marketing approach can be the answer to their need for higher share of searches and likes. One of the big barriers to this is the dictatorship of last click combined with darkness-recently-fallen-upon-us of Not-provided.
So the number 1 French Digital Pride of the moment is Criteo after a successful IPO and a successful worldwide coverage and their appealing idea of setting up a huge developer center in the heart of Paris because of “the quality of French developers”. The politicians and the people certainly like this idea of a central Paris Silicon Valley. Interestingly, there are only few other purely French RTB players. The most famous ones, Gamned and Matiro shifted ownership during 2013 with Gamned entering a media group to become “Makazi” and Matiro being acquired into a direct marketing agency, Millemercis. Remain a couple of specialized players, Tradelab and Nextperformance but it looks like we have international players arriving in hordes to cover more ground before the market starts to consolidate.
On the media side, RTB has picked up extensively. Some of the big networks shifted to RTB quite early and recently some of the big media sites have built common platforms both as a means of defence against the raid of adexchanges and as a means of embracing the rise of programmatic buying. The most notable platforms launched are two private platforms launched by groupings of the largest media players: La Place Media (Le Figaro, France Television, l’Equipe, all the regional press and more) and Audience Square (Le monde, M6, Les Echos, Le Point,…).
So the French market has adopted RTB at an impressive rate. Prediction was for RTB to double from 7% to 15% of display during the year but the proportion could be higher and there is a real opportunity to go beyond performance/remarketing with this channel; entry-level budgets can be lower, advertisers can manage in-house, display advertising can be used differently.
Oh and shall we wrap up with a French Digital Pride in the making: Withings, makers of the Smart Body Analyzer (now everywhere in French christmas shopping being the ultimate perfect gift). A connected scales for staying on top of your weight, your body mass, your arterial tension. Upload your health into the cloud.
About the Author, Anders Hjorth
Anders Hjorth (@soanders) is a digital native, entrepreneur, a frequent speaker on Search Marketing and occasional blogger. He is the Founder of AZNOS [Content Marketing] and of BDBL MEDIA [Biddable Media], 2 Digital Marketing agencies based in Paris.