It didn’t feature an athletic woman throwing a hammer through a screen, but I thought Google’s Super Bowl ad was pretty well done.
Google has scooped up billions in revenues — and hollowed out much of the traditional media business — with ads targeted to search keywords. However, the search giant made its first foray into the kind of big budget brand advertising it has long pooh-poohed with a Super Bowl ad.
It was an accident, Eric Schmidt explained in a blog post. “We didn’t set out to do a Super Bowl ad, or even a TV ad for search,” Schmidt wrote. “Our goal was simply to create a series of short online videos about our products and our users, and how they interact. But 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.”
Despite all the brand extensions into phone sales, operating systems, information and idea management, communication, space exploration, and more, Google is still, at its core, about search. Other commentators noted that we know this already, so why waste all that money telling us again? Fair point, but this commercial was not about telling us what we already know. It was Google’s clearest positioning statement in years, and one I think it thought was necessary in the face of the growing number of Microsoft Bing search engine “attack ads.”
Microsoft’s Bing ads never mention competition by name, but we all know the target. They show people asking others simple questions and getting crazy, seemingly random answers that also happen to fit the query string. What Microsoft’s trying to say is that Google’s search engine does give you results, but the ones you want could be buried or obscured by errata.
By the way, Google’s ad is also a demonstration of prowess. The search results come fast and, obviously, are delivered as spot on. As Microsoft argues, and I often agree, good results can be obscured by too much clutter—sponsored links shove my relevant results down.
This is truly a turning point for the brand – a brand that, for nearly ten years, dismissed brand advertising as a waste of money (“The last bastion of unaccountable spending in corporate America,” in Eric Schmidt’s words back in 2006), and built its entire fortune on turning the advertising model upside down.
Google’s Super Bowl message is clear: We give you the search results you want to help propel you forward. The “On” in the “Search On” slogan is not about doing more of it, but about moving forward in life through search. This doesn’t make me like the slogan any more—it smacks of 1960’s flower-power-ism, but I can now see it as a powerful marketing statement.
Google’s spot came in at No. 2 in web buzz to Doritos, according to media-monitoring firm Radian6 and ad agency Mullen due to its high percentage of “positive tweets.” Google’s ad led Zeta Interactive’s measure of online buzz, with positive blog posts running 98%.
Forget market research. Forget focus groups. Forget data tracking. As it has been said, “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.” And this ad was as close to “art” as we got during the Super Bowl commercial breaks. But more than calling it art (which is subjective) you can call it something a bit more acurate. Storytelling. Which is what I believe is at the core of all great advertising. It’s the thing that makes a person look over their shoulder and shout, “Hey, come here quick…that commercial is on!” People love stories. We need them. Do you have a favorite TV show, or a favorite song, book, or movie? These are all stories, without which our existence would be pretty bleak (and some would say not at all). So what’s wrong with creating a compelling :30 second, 1:00 minute, or 3:00 minute “story” that impacts as well as informs and influences the audience?