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Google-WPP Alliance Funds Ad Research

Google and media-buying heavyweight WPP are jointly funding research to better understand how online media influences advertising. The two companies announced Wednesday that they will award $4.6 million in 11 grants to academic stalwarts such as M.I.T. and the Harvard Business School.

When the "Google and WPP Marketing Research Awards Program," formed last year, the partners said they expected to support up to 12 awards in the range from $50,000 to $70,000.

The supported projects represent the first round of awards in the three-year program that will see WPP and Google commit up to $4.6 million to support research into how online media influences consumer behavior, attitudes and decision making. Funding for the supported projects will be released in this month.

"The winning academic research projects all study the critical relationship between online and offline advertising by analyzing comprehensive data sets. Bringing academic research into the discussion around online advertising will help marketers better understand how to build the most measurable, effective campaigns--which is even more crucial in this economy," Erin Clift, Google's Director of Agency Relations, told InternetNews.com.

For example, topics that will be tackled by award recipients include the following, “Does Internet advertising help established brands or niche (long tail) brands more?"; "Are Brand Attitudes Contagious? Consumer Response to Organic Search Trends"; and the "Effect of Online Exposure on Offline Buying: How Online Exposure Aids or Hurts Offline Buying by Increasing the Impact of Offline Attributes."

A complete list of the award winners and their respective topics can be found at the WPP Web site here.

Strength in numbers

The partnership between Google and WPP is part of a broader trend right now in which industry giants join forces to advance research that can be used to make online and mobile advertising more effective.

For example, in late Janaury, Microsoft, CBS Interactive and Hulu.com formed a collaborative effort dubbed the "Pool" to figure out how to make money with online video ads and to try to standardize formats. The idea came from Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest, which buys ad time and space for big advertisers like Procter & Gamble, and from its sister agency VivaKi.

Mark Read, director of strategy at WPP, said the companies decided to team up because of their complementary areas of expertise.

"We have a powerful combination of data sets," he said, referring to Google's search, trend and analytics information and proprietary data from WWP companies including BrandZ, Market Norms, TGI as well as media data and research generated at GroupM and The Kantar Group.

Read also said the deal shouldn't be seen in terms of WWP as the un-plugged party joining the digital behemoth. "It would be a mistake to characterize WWP as an offline entity," he told InternetNews.com, "because of our $15 billion in annual revenue roughly a quarter comes from digital marketing."

What makes the WPP-Google award program notable is that both companies are still eager to invest money in R & D during the recession, which proves that they are serious about discovering a way to quantify ad research and revenues in an increasingly complex digital world.

To that end, Read said the future of the award program beyond its initial three-year run "depends on the results we get out of it."

And, while most of today's winners are U.S.-based, Read said, "In the future we hope to have a broader geographic representation in terms of the academic perspective."