Sunday, January 1, 2012
Google, Where Data Is Religion, Plays to Feelings
Google, one of the biggest advertising companies in the world, has finally embraced advertising for itself.
The search giant made its first push into advertising with a Super Bowl ad in 2010 about a young couple falling in love. But through last year it began a more focused national television campaign, as well as taking on other efforts, like hosting Google-themed conferences in an effort to represent its online brand in the offline world.
"This past year has really been a remarkable transformation for Google," said Peter Daboll, chief executive of Ace Metrix, a firm that evaluates TV and video ads.
Though Google is a household name, it needs to tell its story now for a few reasons. It needs new businesses like the Chrome browser and the Google Plus social network to succeed if it is going to find sources of revenue beyond search ads.
The ads are also part of Google's mission, led by Larry Page, its co-founder and chief executive, to pare down its product offering and make Google products more attractive, intuitive and integrated with one another.
Lorraine Twohill, Google's vice president for global marketing, would not disclose how much the company had increased its advertising spending, but said there had been a shift in strategy.
"As we got bigger, we had more competition, more products, more messages to consumers, so we needed to do a bit more to communicate what these products are and how you can use them," she said.
Also as Google comes under attack from antitrust regulators, it can't hurt to tell heartwarming stories about Google to wide audiences.
"If we don't make you cry, we fail," Ms. Twohill said. "It's about emotion, which is bizarre for a tech company."
Some viewers may be hard-pressed to keep their eyes dry after watching "Dear Sophie," Google's ad for Chrome in which a father sends multimedia messages to his baby daughter, or to hold back a smile watching grandmothers and children dancing to Lady Gaga.
But that is not to say that Google, where data is religion, does not back up sentimental branding efforts with cold, hard data.
Before showing the Super Bowl ad, Google tested a dozen versions on YouTube and chose to broadcast the one that received the most views.
And Google events, which also fall under the marketing division, require immense spreadsheets, like one to choose a location for Google Zeitgeist, its annual conference for wooing its biggest advertisers. The spreadsheet charted 140 hotels from Manhattan to Phoenix, with color-coded tabs and columns for ballroom size, room rates and the number of layovers to fly there.
The winner was Paradise Valley, Ariz., where Google's event planner, Lorin Pollack, brought the company headquarters' preschool motif to the desert.
"Google's an online brand," Ms. Pollack said. "You can't experience the brand except for typing keys. It's a huge responsibility to actually bring that brand to life outside of the computer."
The lanterns lining the steps at the nighttime parties were Google colors -- red, yellow, blue and green -- and oversized stuffed ottomans mimicked the office's beanbags, where engineers sit with laptops perched on their knees. Attendees could climb on the giant tricycle that Google Street View engineers ride to take photos or design their own Android robot T-shirts. A vending machine dispensed primary-colored juggling balls, bought by swiping Android cellphones.
Even the tablecloths had to evoke Google, which meant no billowy linen, Ms. Pollack said.
"Google is a very clean, simple brand," she said. "Linen gets sloppy. It gets dirty; it's hard to sit under. I take a lot of inspiration from our home page. It's just simple."
Like Google's events, its TV ads are light on details about products' features. Instead, they are meant to evoke curiosity and emotion, Ms. Twohill said.
The first ads for Chrome, aimed at frequent Web users, were online and discussed the browser's speed and security. But when it came time to take Chrome mainstream, she said, Google turned to television to reach those "who don't get out of bed in the morning and think, 'I'll get a new browser today.' "
Google broke the recent trend of 15-second television ads to tell stories in a minute or two.
An ad for Google Plus shows the arc of a couple's courtship without spoken words. The man places the woman in a social circle titled "love of my life," but he starts out in her circle called "creepers." Over time, though, he graduates to "book club," "ski house" and eventually "keepers."
Another, which was broadcast just before Christmas, shows the Muppets in a Google Plus Hangout video chat singing along to Queen and David Bowie. A newspaper ad for Google Plus featured the Dalai Lama joining Desmond Tutu by Hangout after he was denied a visa to visit South Africa.
Google is also advertising its search engine, even though, with two-thirds market share in the United States, it is hardly an unknown brand to anyone.
"I still think it's important to remind people why Google matters, how it's had an impact on people's lives, what life was like before this," Ms. Twohill said. An added incentive is that Google's main rival, Microsoft's Bing, also has a new ad campaign.
One search ad shows a surfer finding the perfect wave, a teenager becoming the youngest person to discover a supernova and a man installing solar panels.
"We're all searching for a different thing, even if we're all trying to get to the same endpoint," a voice says.
Google's strategy has connected with viewers, Mr. Daboll said, because they would rather view a story than have products pushed at them. Google ads took five of the top 10 spots on Ace Metrix's list of the most effective TV ads for Web sites last year.
"Google has been so dominant in its usefulness," he said. "Now they want to make you feel something about search, as opposed to just relying on it as a useful tool."