Sorrell: Google Going From ‘Frenemy’ To ‘Froe’; WPP CEO Grills GOOG, YHOO, MSFT At Cannes

Perhaps the title of the Cannes International Advertising Festival panel — “From Metrics to Brand: Online’s Next Challenge”– was deliberately bland. But the chance to see the outspoken WPP Group’s CEO Sir Martin Sorrell moderate a panel with Hillary Schneider, EVP of Yahoo’s (NSDQ: YHOO) global partner solutions division, Kevin Johnson, president of Microsoft’s (NSDQ: MSFT) platforms and services division, and Henrique de Castro, managing director of European sales at Google (NSDQ: GOOG), must have felt like being in the audience of a trashy talk show featuring the parties of a bitter love triangle. Adweek recorded the play-by-play, with Sorrell taking aim at Google on a number of fronts. Microsoft’s Johnson appeared happy to back him up — not hard to imagine given it’s only been a week since Google and Yahoo solidified their search ad pact as Microsoft’s bid for the latter company finally collapsed.

Frenemy to ‘froe’?: The perception that Google has deeply encroached upon ad agency territory is what first led Sorrell to dub the search giant a “frenemy.” Maybe he’s gotten tired of that appellation. He’s now saying the relationship between the two are “froes.” As he said in an interview with Reuters a few weeks ago, Sorrell pointed that out that he’s spending $850 million with Google, so there is some need there on his and other agencies’ part. But Sorrell and others are increasingly worried that Google is doing end-runs around the ad shops and going directly to clients — despite repeated assurances from Google that this was not the case. Asked bluntly if Google is going back on its word — or if it’s just a case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing — De Castro responded that, yes, the company has some deals with advertisers. But he added that Google prefers doing business with agencies. Doubtful that Sorrell was assuaged.

GOOG + YHOO = Monopoly?: Sorrell lobbed a softball to Microsoft’s Johnson, asking if the deal between Google and Yahoo could have a deleterious impact on the search market. Johnson: “We think the industry is better served if there are ‘n’ number of players and ‘n’ is greater than one.” Yahoo’s Schneider defended the arrangement, saying it would lead to a more open search marketplace. Also, she insisted that Yahoo was not surrendering and still considered itself an independent player in the market.