Close-Up: What can advertising do for Google?

The search giant is looking to take on Microsoft by embracing advertising. Anne Cassidy reports.

After spending the past decade organising the world's information, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and the Google team have their sights set on the desktop market - also known as Microsoft territory. To take some share from their rival, they are using a weapon they haven't needed to bother with before: advertising.

The search engine giant has launched its first major ad push, with a campaign called "gone Google" directly aiming at Microsoft's office market.

The campaign is targeting business people, but, ironically, Google, the pantheon of new media, is advertising on "old" mass-media such as outdoor billboards, digital formats and print ads. The ads use straplines persuading the audience of the superiority of Google's office services: "Day 9: Email inbox is full. Grrr!!! Go Google?"

Some believe that not only do the ads attack Microsoft's business, but, by also using the same media spaces and advertising formats as its rival, it is a clever ploy to undermine the way in which Microsoft advertises its own products.

Another revelation to set the heart of adland aflutter is news that the world's biggest brand is set to launch international above-the-line campaigns to market its web browser, Chrome, and its operating system, Chrome OS, after hiring OMD last week to handle the media.

Stephen Rust, the chief executive of i-level Group, believes this is just the beginning: "This is a sensible next move for Google. To continue to rain on Microsoft's parade, they need to find new sources of revenue. It's difficult to know how they're going to do that without further promotion."

It's an historic turn of events, when you consider that Google has, until now, been a sort of anti-brand, building its name based purely on the performance of its product and word of mouth.

But while Google built and led the search market, there hasn't been a brand halo effect for its other products such as iGoogle, a personalised homepage offering, Google Docs, an online rival to Microsoft Office, and Chrome. This is where advertising comes in.

"They're trying to get people to think about them in areas other than search. They want people to view them as a viable alternative to Microsoft, and they need advertising to ensure this happens," Pete Robins, a managing partner of the digital agency agenda21, explains.

In addition, Google's size and scale has changed people's perceptions of it over the years. What was once the challenger brand is now viewed as a corporate behemoth. Robins adds: "The downside of becoming as dominant as Google is that people go off you. There was more affinity for them when they were younger. Now people don't talk about Google in the same glowing terms."

This attempt to steer the brand away from its corporate image is evident in the personal, human tone of the "gone Google" campaign. As one senior creative points out: "What is notable about the campaign is how simple and low-key it is. It doesn't feel like the kind of messaging from a large global corporation."

But advertising is not without its pitfalls, especially when specifically targeting your nearest competitor. Rust warns: "Any form of advertising might just move the public perception closer to the reality that they're not that dissimilar to other hugely successful multinational corporations like, um, Microsoft."

- Got a view? E-mail us at

AGENCY HEAD - Rob Forshaw, partner, Grand Union

"Google is looking to advertising to try to reach new customers. I don't think it will change its strategy of using its own channels as its most powerful means of communicating its message. I see advertising as being complementary.

"The use of billboards is meant to be disruptive. I think the choice of media is an attempt to occupy the space that Microsoft might. The campaign is a sideswipe at Microsoft and will have its own PR effect. They're trying to tempt people to switch to Google's free service."

CREATIVE - Steve Vranakis, creative director, VCCP

"When you make a connection with Google, you are in a state of need and end up forming a very utilitarian and functional relationship with it.

"Advertising connects people on a much more emotional level, allowing Google to provide you with further value than just the immediate. It can begin to talk about its ethos and values and what these could mean to you.

"Once a challenger brand to the 'internet's establishment' with a very 'un-brand' look and feel, it is now the dominant player, incredibly data rich, diversified and so integral to your daily life that it's almost difficult to believe in its original brand promise of 'Don't be evil'."

AGENCY HEAD - James Murphy, founder, Adam & Eve

"As Google becomes a day in, day out reflex tool for people, it almost becomes invisible. Advertising allows Google to talk to people in places and in ways that they are not used to interacting with it - and that's a good thing.

"As long as it gets the tone and message right and keeps it relevant, advertising can only do good for Google. Like Starbucks, it's easy for it to be criticised for its size and success. The Google campaign looks like it comes from an empathetic business, not a global corporation."

AGENCY HEAD - Ben Wood, managing director, Diffiniti

"Advertising will help consumers understand Google is more than just search. Consumers that are loyal to its search engine are not loyal to its suite of products. Google probably assumed that, with Chrome, the same user effect would drive take-up, but that is not happening.

"Google search is not building its other brands, from its Froogle shopping search tool to apps for business, so that is why it needs advertising. It's the right strategy to take those products to the next level and it will help elevate it away from its core search product where it has market dominance."


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