Saturday Thought: Bing Bing Bing

Why innovation loses...

Welcome to the weekend, courtesy of William Joel.

Today’s newsletter is sponsored by Greg Stellato over at M3. M3 is an extremely interesting company - they’re transforming e-commerce sites into full fledged publishers.

The proposition is super cool - they can help your DTC client add an extra revenue stream via ads on their site, or turbocharge your media plan with super specific shopping contexts. The example they gave me was targeting vitamin buyers after check-out with an ad for one of my health and wellness clients. Eureka!

Greg is also a fantastic dude, who is up for a great chat (and able to show off his new beachside office in Florida). Hit him up HERE for more info - they do on-site, off-site, in-box, in your head, out of this world, etc.

Why did I give Greg a longer than usual post? Because he paid me $5, above the typical rate of $4.56. Get in your sponsorships now. @danny-weisman on Venmo.

Onto today’s thought about Bing…

Saturday Thought

In an otherwise dull WSJ yesterday, there was a pretty remarkable article about Bing. You can check it out HERE.

The headline: “Even AI Hasn’t Helped Microsoft’s Bing Chip Away At Google’s Search Dominance.”


Over the last year, Bing has tried to make major moves in the search advertising world via their partnership with OpenAI.

Following the end of 2022’s buzzy first interactions with Chat-GPT, Bing launched a new version of their search engine in February powered by the same technology.

It was their first crack at disrupting the decades long dominance of Google in search advertising.

They thought they could bring in $2 billion in ad revenue for every 1% stolen from Google.

It was promising.

Well, it is now August, and nothing has changed.

Bing’s market share sits at 3% as of July, per WSJ.

That’s the same as it was in January.

Its monthly site visitors also sits at 1% of Google’s. Also the same as January.

There are some caveats here. The new Bing with AI has not been available on browsers like Chrome until recently, which has cut off a sizable portion of the internet from trying it.

And it has led to a 10% bump in new Bing users - a benchmark for any company looking to roll-out new AI features in the coming months.

But it’s still curious that Bing couldn’t make a bigger dent over the last 6 months, given the frothiness, intrigue, and media interest around any new AI innovation.

The answer why it hasn’t is unfortunately a disheartening one.

Some of it has to do with familiarity. I wrote about Millennial Inertia in another newsletter.

It is hard to break people out of existing habits, especially those who grew up heavily relying on a certain product or platform, and it’s going to take more than a splash of AI to get people out of that routine.

But the other, more dominant reason, has to do with marketing attribution.

Aka, how marketers crave the ability to cover their own asses, at the expense of actual results. 

You see, Bing low-key had an amazing ad revenue year last year - the year before AI was introduced as part of their product.

As of Q3’22, Bing revenue was up 16% year over year, while Google was only up 4%.

By the end of 2022, Bing search revenue was at almost $12B.

The previous year was closer to $7B.

Source: Statista

Why? Did Bing unexpectedly see a massive spike in usage in 2022?

Not to my knowledge. I’ve seen no evidence that people sought out Bing more than usual last year, or that their website visits rose substantially in 2022.

If anything, site traffic was up after they rolled out their new AI product in March 2023.

Source: Statista

So why the flipped narrative?

The answer lies instead in the U.S. economy, and how marketers were forced to react to it last year.

2022 was a big year for big doomsday predictions.

Everything was going to crash. Marketing budgets got cut. Brands pulled back.

For marketers trying to keep their jobs, that meant cutting bigger bets in favor of “sure thing” media properties that drive customers, revenue, and the ability to attribute sales back to marketing efforts.

Search advertising is one of these “sure things.” And there to catch the extra dollars was Bing.

Search advertising is incredibly successful for marketers, because, well - it’s sort of bullshit.

People who search for your brand are likely to buy it anyway.

And a bigger focus from the C-suite on where marketing dollars are going means more money to things that show an ability to drive sales, no matter how bullshity they are.

So Bing’s ad revenue skyrocketed last year. And then it introduced a game changer technology to their product.

But 2023 has been a different story from 2022. Instead of doomsday, we have “it’s not so bad.” Instead of shrinking ad budgets, we have underratedly growing ones. As Brian Wieser has pointed out, Q2 numbers were actually solid for ad sellers.

And instead of a need to cover our asses, we have more runway to spread our dollars to things we want to try and test.

There’s no bigger evidence of this than Digiday, a digital advertising site, recently exclaiming that “print is back.”

I am not saying that Bing is the holy grail of innovation.

But it’s startling that Bing was able to capture more revenue last year than this year, before it introduced AI as part of its search engine.

Because when the going gets tough, advertising decisions are not driven by innovation.

They are driven by attribution.

They are driven by a marketer’s need to cover their own ass, and show that what they’re doing is working, no matter the fuzziness of the impact or the numbers.

They are driven by a scared mentality.

If you are working with a marketing team during a tough time, pay even closer attention to the decisions being made.

Are they making them to help grow your business, or to save their own?

Are they making them to accelerate your job, or to keep their own?

It’s sad. I want to believe marketers want to invest in innovation.

But all I see is a want to invest in attribution.

We can all be better. Let’s fight a little bit more for innovation, and a little less for attribution.

And if you’re making marketing decisions just to keep your job, maybe you got the wrong job.

Stay thinkin,