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December 25, 2015

2015 and the Year of the Rise of the GAFTAA Mafia

by Tom De Baere

the GAFTAA mafia

Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Alibaba.

Together they are the GAFTAA mafia. They battle for the internet, the consumer, and access to these consumer through marketers.

We marketers have little choice to pay ever more pizzo, or protection money.

This protection money serves to marketers as a means to be found or to get access to our consumer. Or do we have a choice instead of paying them money?

The battle for the internet.

Netscape killed by MSBill Gates has tried several times to own the internet. With projects with well-known and lesser-known names , such as Blackbird, ActiveX and MSN.

Millions have been invested into servers and telephone dial-up infrastructure, but Bill threw it all overboard to give answer to the Internet tidal wave that was then called Netscape.

Microsoft used their monopoly on the desktop market, and by giving away their free Internet Explorer. This meant the slow death of Netscape.

In an extraordinary tour de force, with incredible amounts of capital and a reckless fight for talent, Microsoft went for control over the internet. Microsoft crushed Netscape’s market share from 90 % in 1996, to just 4 % in 2002.

Today the battle for the Internet continues. Google is becoming more present and has an increasing impact on the way we find things and buy things. In Google’s “lala-land”, no market is secure: with their rich-snippets in the browser, we compare hotels, flights , credit cards, car insurance and mortgages. And with the introduction of the “buy button” right in our browser, Google takes the next step: they now control the entire financial transaction.

These are all examples of how Google tries to grab more of the buying process. The result will be that we, toiling and sweating marketers, will have to give more of our hard-earned money to Google, in order for our products to be found and get sold.

Why must we always pay more to Google? Because they determine how the algorithm works. The day their turnover decreases, with a little twist of their algorithm, the can draw more money out of our pockets .


With DoubleClick for Publishers and AdX, Google also has a near monopoly on advertising on the Internet.

These ads are to media and publishers what they need to survive, but at the same time these ads are the uneasy compromise between the real cost of content, and what the consumer is prepared to pay for it.

With the emergence of free media, the consumer is not prepared to pay anything at all. Whatever advertising means to publishers or to consumers, in almost all cases, they disrupt our user experience, no-matter how creative advertisers may be.

Disturbing or not, the ad-rich Internet of Google does work. Users search for things, see Google ads, and land on content that is further monetized by Google ads. The majority of our search-friends revenue originates from that mechanism, and Google does not work if the Web is not searchable.

It doesn’t seem to bother our Adwords-money-spending-marketing-manager that there is widespread ad fraud, that a sloppy 56% of all ads are simply never seen, and that almost no one ever clicks on ads.



The GAFTAA mafia is preparing for a fight

But competitors are on the horizon. The rest of the GAFTAA mafia come in and mingle, roll their muscles and show their deep pockets, all in for one cause: the ownership of the Internet.

In this fight, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Alibaba all defend their position, like Microsoft did at the time.

Although these GAFTAA mafia members all seem to play on a different domain, one in hardware, the other in monetizing personal data, and yet another in e-commerce, their is one thing they have in common: They use their own monopoly to bring other mafia members to a fall.



The focus of this black-hat-wearing mob, today, is shifting from the desktop browser to mobile. And mobile, that’s where Apple dominates the statistics.

As usual, Apple does not allow control over the App system they have carefully created. In practice this means, sorry to get technical here, that they do not allow alternative web rendering on the iPhone. There is only Webkit, which Apple neatly controls. Because they control this Webkit, it gives Apple “veto power” over any Google advertising on the iPhone. Google ads are now threatened to come under the control of their great rival.

In iOS9, the iPhone’s operating system, Apple introduced a couple of smaller things to further bully Google. However, these smaller things can have a major impact on Google.

Besides some smaller items such as auto-suggestive search and search inside Apps, the biggest change to the iPhone is that users now can block Google ads. In one big blow they also introduced Apple News that allows Apple to sell non-blockable ads to content publishers.

You can put questions toward this hypocritical attitude of Apple, but what is sure is that with all these innovations, Apple is pushing the stiletto-knife even deeper into the Google revenue model.

Oh, and if you are not satisfied with Apple news, Apple allows you to use you Facebook Instant articles. These will suck all the privacy data out of your body, and serve you non-blockable ads on Facebook, but that’s OK for Apple. As long as the ad money but does not go to Google, they are fine.

Why? Because Google is in their hardware market, with the Android operating system.

And so the circle is complete : Apple, which is not in the search and advertising market of Google, still they are attacking Google.

Facebook, the new capo

The other members of the GAFTAA mafia are also making aggressive moves. Facebook for example.

In 2014, Facebook made us pay heavy for our organic range to Facebook, and thus has personally decided that social media has now become paid media. And they can and they should. After all, the platform is theirs.

Meanwhile, Facebook controls a shoddy 1.5 billion users, accounting to around 25 % of all web traffic. Thus we, digital marketers, after 15 years of Google idolatry, we now have a new capo, Facebook, which we must obey.

This capo means serious business. In yet another attempt to make search successful in Facebook, after Facebook Graph, they now have Facebook Search.

In addition, Facebook also now become the great messiah of publishers, it seems. All for free, with instant articles and direct to social on Facebook, publishers set the trend for native advertising to get a higher place in the news feeds of Facebook.

With all this, and their massive offensive against YouTube video of Google, Facebook wants the defacto Internet for their 1.5 billion users.



The top five of the messaging apps are also owned by the GAFTAA. Smart, because messaging apps will soon be the new social media. At this top we have WhatsApp, FB Messenger, WeChat and Instagram. Businesses and consumers will increasingly use this real-time communication to interact with brands, do payments, do shopping, look for news, play games and more.

And who says online payments, says e -commerce. And with that, you get to the domain of Amazon and Alibaba.

And what about Twitter, the last descendant of the GAFTAA mafia? Well, they’ll probably be bought by Google in 2016. Or not. We’ll see. In any case, Twitter is on the same train as Facebook, where they want more control over the media world .

And so it is everyone against everyone, all with their own revenue platform.

It is the latest war for the Internet, which unfortunately also means collateral damage. Because Apple and Facebook go behind the turnover of Google, and therefore after a piece of the Web, small and independent publishers will be hit.

These smaller players do not have enough strength to invest in major distribution platforms and native advertising.

It will be a massacre of the smaller players. And the major publishers, the’ll get a Trojan horse from Facebook. Hopefully they will realize this in time.



Dealing with the GAFTAA mafia

The battle for the Internet, the media and the consumer is being played on a high level, that much is clear. The question is whether we, marketers, want to be the plaything of the GAFTAA mob, where we have to pay pizzo, or protection money, to get access to our customers.

Do we even have a choice? I think so. Fortunately, there’s the consumer who still decides what he wants. And fortunately, the GAFTAA mafia still must give them what they want.

It is our job as modern marketers, in our rapidly evolving digital world, to turn internal and external data into insights.

It is our responsibility to introduce digital thinking into our organizations, implement new agile organizational structures and to launch concrete programs such as e-commerce, inbound marketing, content marketing, new marketing tools, social business, employee ambassadorship or develop new channels for mobile or wearables.

Go and find new strategies, today, that respond to the challenges and opportunities brought by the digital revolution.

Make sure you understand the GAFTAA mafia, and that you work with them, but only when it makes sense and where useful in your entire marketing mix.

But do not have yourself extorted by the capo. Fight him on his own ground: be relevant for your customers.


Warm regards, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tom De Baere