Almost every time I’ve turned on the television in the past week, I’ve seen an ad for Google Chrome. What started earlier this year as a sprinkling of ads here in the United States has become a torrential downpour.
For me, Google has long been one of the poster children for a new breed of company born in the age of the Internet that doesn’t need to rely on traditional advertising to build its brand.
So, as I’m sure many of you have, I started asking myself, why exactly is Google doing so much television advertising?
It’s no secret that Google has historically not been a fan of traditional advertising. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago (2006) that Google Chairman Eric Schmidt called advertising “the last bastion of unaccountable spending in corporate America.”
And Google is certainly an interesting paradox: a company that historically does little paid advertising itself, yet makes billions of dollars selling advertising to others.
I did a little research and pieced together some history about Google and television ads.
In May, 2009, the first ad for Google Chrome appeared on television in the United States. In the blog post announcing the new spot, Google sounded almost apologetic, saying the ad was originally just developed in Japan as a web video, but it sparked a conversation and received good feedback. So Google decided to run it as a TV ad, in part as a test of the new Google TV Ads program.
The next year you may recall that Google actually bought an ad on the Super Bowl, which they called Parisian Love.
Eric Schmidt announced the spot on the Google blog, justifying it by saying “we liked this video so much, and it’s had such a positive reaction on YouTube, that we decided to share it with a wider audience.” But his Twitter announcement of the ad acknowledged that this was quite a unlikely strategy for Google:
Earlier this year, Google began developing the current set of ads for Google Chrome in partnership with advertising agency BBH.
The work is compelling, as advertising goes (here’s a link to all of the spots on YouTube, if you want to check them out). Perhaps the most thoughtful one highlights the It Gets Better Project, which has resulted in thousands of videos being created for YouTube that are intended to give hope to LGBT youths.
The Dear Sophie spot has been viewed on YouTube over 3 million times, and there are ads featuring Lady Gaga (4 million page views) and Justin Bieber (almost 2 million pages views) as well. The newest pieces highlight The Johnny Cash Project (where artists are collaboratively developing a tribute music video for Cash’s song “Ain’t No Grave”), Frank Restaurant in Austin, TX (mmm…. so delicious… don’t pass up the waffle fries), and Angry Birds.
From a branding perspective, the ads make sense–as stories. By telling these stories, Google and BBH are invoking the transitive property of branding to associate Google Chrome with some incredibly innovative collaborative efforts. The math looks something like this:
Lady Gaga = open, collaborative, innovative.
Google Chrome = open, collaborative, innovative.
Therefore, if you like Lady Gaga, you’ll like Google Chrome.
Certainly getting ten million combined pageviews on YouTube for the campaign is pretty awesome—and free—so why spend the big money to put these ads on television too? Isn’t the beauty of the Google / YouTube model that it can be effective at eliminating the need for traditional advertising?
Perhaps Google is trying to expand its brand awareness with people it can’t reach via YouTube? But why spend the money on Google Chrome, a web browser (and a term Google itself has shown that almost no one understands), rather than the Google brand itself?
My first thought was that perhaps Chrome was losing the browser wars and the television ads were a desperate attempt to keep the Chrome ship afloat.
It turns out that is about as far from true as you can get. Chrome is killing it. According to StatCounter, Chrome is rapidly gaining new users at the expense of Internet Explorer and Firefox both.
In fact, some predict Chrome usage will actually exceed Firefox usage by the end of this year.
A victory for traditional advertising?
Not so fast. Here’s a good post from late this summer highlighting Chrome’s rapid ascent and documenting the reasons for it. From the post:
“Online, Google of course has a huge marketing advantage over basically everyone else since it can recommend its Chrome browser on its web properties such as Google Search, YouTube, etc. Not even Facebook can compare with Google when it comes to sheer web presence, reaching over a billion users.
That said, Google has clearly built a very good and highly popular product. If people didn’t like Chrome, the browser wouldn’t be able to retain users to the extent it seems to be doing.”
So the two reasons for Chrome’s success come down to:
1) the browser is good
2) it can leverage the power of Google’s online advertising engine (yes, the same engine that millions of companies have raided their traditional media advertising budgets to spend more on, causing the rise of Google in the first place).
But I didn’t see Google’s television advertising strategy mentioned here, or in any other article I read, as an explanation for Chrome’s rapid ascent.
Let me sum things up:
I get why Google is making the effort to create stories like these and share them with the world. Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool for building brands the open source way.
And overall, I like the approach Google is taking—many of the stories are really well told, and the focus on open, collaborative projects and artists (not to mention tasty hot dogs) sits well with me.
But I can’t for the life of me figure out why Google spending so much of its shareholders’ money putting these ads on TV.
If you have the answer, I’d love to hear it.
[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]
My publisher recently created a series of short video segments where I discuss The Ad-Free Brand. They were filmed in our New Kind office with a laptop internal video camera and Skype connection, so keep your expectations low (and certainly don’t confuse these videos with the kind of expensive advertising I rail against in the book:)
Today, I’ll share a five-minute overview of the book itself, and next week I’ll feature three separate Ad-Free Brand tips.
I have a decent (and still growing) LP collection, and my turntable gets almost daily use. In fact, I often buy music on vinyl rather than downloading it or buying CDs.
One of my recent vinyl purchases was Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. Probably one of the greatest albums of all time, but it wasn’t until I heard it on LP that I really felt like I started to get it. There was something about listening to it in the way it would have been listened to when it came out in 1966. Pops, crackles, and Brian Wilson just felt right together.
But as I’ve made my way around music stores, I’ve noticed the number of brand new releases coming out on vinyl seems to be increasing. And I’ve also seen many bands going (on purpose) for a lower fidelity sound.
“I’m a real lo-fi junkie,” [Stuart McLamb] says. “I like the [Band’s] Big Pink philosophy — you should have a dog on the floor of a basement while you’re recording. That’s where the best stuff happens.”
A dog on the floor, man! Not some fancy studio in New York City run by rich guys in suits named Hunter and Cody. The places where the dog is invited is where the best stuff happens.
Where am I going with this? I believe that there is a lo-fi movement not only in music but in communications more broadly that continues to gain momentum. Communications that are too high fidelity may not be viewed as trustworthy anymore. Take this quote from the Wikipedia page for “Low fidelity”:
Last night, Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst gave a talk to a group made up of mostly students and faculty at the NC State School of Engineering. Nice writeup of it in the student newspaper here. His ideas were very timely for me; just the other day, I wrote a post with some tips for companies with 20th century cultures trying to make the move into the 21st century.
Jim Whitehurst is in a rather unique position because he has managed both an icon of the 20th century corporation (Delta Airlines) and what we’d like to think is a good example of the 21st century corporation here at Red Hat.
Because of his experiences, Jim is able to clearly see and articulate the differences between the old model of corporate culture, based on classic Sloan-esque management principles, and the emerging model, based in many ways on the power of participation broadly (and in our case, the open source way specifically).
One very simple point Jim made that really struck me: Companies with 20th century business models need to realize that they are already hiring 21st century employees.
People coming out of school today have grown up in an age where the ability to participate and share broadly is all they’ve known. These folks have grown up with email accounts, the Internet, Facebook, and all of the other trappings of a connected world.
So when they graduate from school and take jobs working in old-style corporate cultures, where progressive principles like transparency, collaboration, and meritocracy lose out to the old world of control, power, and hierarchy, what happens?