Is WPP really trying to challenge Google with Xaxis?

Well WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell has never ducked a challenge and it looks as though he’s taking on a far bigger foe than long-time opponents Omnicom, Interpublic and Publicis Groupe in challenging Google’s domination of the provision of data for online ad buying.

Because that’s what WPP’s new consumer database Xaxis looks as though it’s doing.

Here’s Xaxis CEO Brian Lesser: “We are much better suited to offer competitive products that integrate with what our agencies are doing … Google is a great partner of ours but we don’t rely on their full technology stack the way some of our colleagues at other agencies do.”

Lesser is right, Omnicom with its various technology company partners and Publicis Groupe’s Vivaki media exchange are both reliant (although not exclusively) on Google data. And Google, with its mysterious algorithms, can put into its data more or less what it wants to put into its data.

At any point, in theory, it could turn off the tap or, at least, make sure that its own data tap was better.

Marcoms bosses will have noted the company’s strong presence at the recent Cannes International Festival of Creativity and the rather startling ability of its in-house Google Lab to win a slew of creative awards.

Google has more than enough talent at its Palo Alto HQ to set up a more than competitive global ad agency and chairman Eric Schmidt keeps saying that it sees its future as advertising rather than search.

The question for WPP is the extent and quality of its own data. Xaxis claims to have over 600m consumer profiles in its launch markets of North America, Europe and Australia. Through its Kantar research subsidiary it has the ability to accumulate and order much more data and to this it can add its proprietary media tools based on $649m buy 24/7 Real Media (where Lesser comes from).

Only time will tell if Xaxis becomes a real challenger to Google on its chosen territory or is just a way for WPP to pretend that its gaggle of research companies (most notably £1.1bn 2008 acquisition TNS) are part of a convincing, forward-looking strategy.

WPP itself probably isn’t quite sure. But Xaxis is an audacious move just the same.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.