Exclusive: Google Maps will tell you where to buy burgers before showing you the way

The Google Maps app logo is seen on a smartphoneReuters

  • Google Maps is now showing ads within the mobile app as users try to search for destinations.
  • Spotted by Business Insider India, the navigation showed a KFC ad pinned as the first result under the search menu.
  • Google introduced location-based ad targeting in November 2019 but no ads were seen immediately after.
Google is now showing ads within the Google Maps application to users in India. Spotted on Friday, the navigation app showed a KFC ad pinned on top of destination options in the search menu.

Screenshot of KFC ads on Google MapsGoogle Maps/Business Insider India

"This is not new exactly," Google spokesperson told Business Insider. However, the Google Maps mobile app has remained ad-free for the past 15 years. The application claims that the ad is based on "current search terms".

According to the tech giant, the new feature only works as well as the information shared by the user. The company analyses IP addresses, device locations, and search terms in order to show users relevant promotional pins.

If your location tracking is live, Google can pull local businesses in realtime. However, if your location tracking is switched off — Google can still make suggestions based on your local history.

How Google personalises your adsGoogle Maps/Business Insider India

If you’re not looking for personalised suggestions, Google does give users the option to turn off ads from KFC, should they wish to do so.

Option to turn off ads in Google Maps​Google Maps/Business Insider India​

Nonetheless, prepare to have your Google Maps cluttered with at least one ad as you try and search for your destination. The new feature was introduced in the latest update, released on February 8 when Google Maps celebrated turning 15.

The app now sports a new icon and five-easy to access tabs — Explore, Commute, Saved, Contribute and Updates.

Local search ads
Google announced that it was expanding local campaigns to develop "location-based ad targeting" in November 2019. "These [ads] are designed to drive foot traffic to local businesses," said Google.

As an advertiser, you don’t get a lot of choice over where and when your ad will appear. You only get to choose how you wish to target customers like shopping ads or across apps. Choosing the "smart" option lets Google decide what combination of advertising will yield the highest return.

Advertisers can also choose the ultimate goal of their marketing campaign — calls, store visits or actions on the website.

"Advertisers provide their budget, business locations and ad creative. Google then uses machine learning to automatically optimize their ads to appear across our properties (Search, YouTube, Maps, websites, apps)," Google told Business Insider.

Screenshot/Business Insider India

A ₹17,000 crore mobile-centric opportunity
Google, with its multiple verticles, is always looking for new ways to make money. Currently, digital advertising in India stands at ₹13,683 crore. By the end of 2020, Dentsu Aegis Network’s (DAN) report estimates that it will rise to ₹17,000 crore.

"The dominant growth factor of Digital comes from the proliferation of smartphones, backed by cheap data plans, that has shifted a significant amount of digital ad spends to mobile advertising," explains Nawal Ahuja, co-founder and director of the Exchange4Media Group.

Google knows this and wants to make most of the opportunity. Ahuja estimates that ad spend on mobile devices will increase by 41% in 2020 to overtake ad spend on desktop.

However, not everyone is happy with Google’s latest move. Businesses like Zomato, Trip Advisor, and Yelp have voiced concerns that Google could this feature to its advantage. In the past, Google has been the subject of anti-trust investigations that question the company’s use of its dominant position in the market.

"We believe their continued practices should raise increased concern in the name of competition and consumer protection," said Trip Advisor in a statement.

See also:
Google Maps is getting a major update today for its 15th birthday - here's everything that's new
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