At the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival, search advertising is getting slammed for its inability to build brands — and rightly so:

Laura Desmond, chief executive of Mediavest USA, which advises clients such as P&G, Masterfoods and Kraft on buying and planning media, said: “Google is going to have to change its business model soon. Search alone isn’t where marketing is today. It is about search and branding and putting the two together.”

Of course, Google and Yahoo push back:

At the Cannes Lions, Google and Yahoo!, two leading search engines, on Monday promised to share more research with advertisers to persuade them search can be used in effective combination with traditional advertising to build brands as well as generate sales.

Damian Burns, head of European agency relations at Google, said: “There is a need for self-education among agencies and clients. But I don’t believe that you can have people being exposed to brands on search results day after day without that having an impact on brand building.”

Ok, let’s try an empirical test. I went over to Style.com and found this ad for Prada Perfume at Neiman Marcus.

Prada Perfume Ad

If you click through, you’ll find that Prada Tendre perfume sells for $95 — not cheap. Why would anyone spend that much on a bottle of perfume? Hmmm.

Next I went to Google and searched for “designer perfume” — sure enough, there was “Prada Perfume” at the top of the “sponsored” listings.

Google Designer Perfume

So there, you see, search advertising is just as effective.

Except it’s not.

There is only ONE reason why anyone would click on the Prada Perfume text ad — the Prada brand. And how did Prada build that brand? Through compelling IMAGES.

If it’s just text vs. text, then the transactional, price-driven ethos of search kicks in and instead the click likely goes to the Scentiments.com ad, because who wouldn’t want to “save up to 80% on perfume”?

So without brand, instead of shopping here…

Prada Neiman Marcus

You shop here…

Scentiments

Google needs to figure out brand advertising or it’s going to hit a wall very soon.

That concludes our demonstration.