Competing Ad Auctions

Ashlagi, Itai, Benjamin Edelman, and Hoan Soo Lee. “Competing Ad Auctions.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 10-055, January 2010. (Revised May 2010, February 2011, September 2013.)

We present a two-stage model of competing ad auctions. Search engines attract users via Cournot-style competition. Meanwhile, each advertiser must pay a participation cost to use each ad platform, and advertiser entry strategies are derived using symmetric Bayes-Nash equilibrium that lead to the VCG outcome of the ad auctions. Consistent with our model of participation costs, we find empirical evidence that multi-homing advertisers are larger than single-homing advertisers. We then link our model to search engine market conditions: We derive comparative statics on consumer choice parameters, presenting relationships between market share, quality, and user welfare. We also analyze the prospect of joining auctions to mitigate participation costs, and we characterize when such joins do and do not increase welfare.