Monday, February 8, 2010

I’ll tell you what I thought of that Google commercial

The :60 spot takes place entirely in and around the Google search box. You see text being entered and search results. You see Google suggestions and typo corrections. You see Google services such as translation and airline info, services many people may not be aware are available. And by reading between the lines you see – or rather, infer – a love story unfold, with a happy ending (not that kind of happy ending you perverts).

On an emotional level it resonates, because without ever saying so, it reminds us of the importance – the power and pervasiveness – of search in our lives. And as a creative, I admire it – its simplicity, its understatedness, particularly in the big-budget shoutfest of self-importance that is the Super Bowl. Do any of the other companies – crassly strutting their stuff – have as much of an impact on so much of our lives as Google? So from that standpoint, it's far-and-away the winner of the ad bowl (though you gotta give props to Leno/Letterman/Oprah too).

Then I put on my strategy hat – it's a tweedy beige number – and asked myself: What's the point? Obviously Google has the cash to drop on this, but what were they accomplishing? Making us feel good about Google (generally already do)? Teaching us that the box does tricks beyond keyword searching (more effective means of education are available)? Reminding us (needlessly) that next time we search, try Google?

As I thought a bit more I realized it was in fact reminding us of one other thing: You can tell a lot about a person by looking at what he searches for. By tracking a person's searches – as Google does – you can essentially get a peek into that person's soul. I was imagining if the spot had ended with Google's famous motto: Don't be evil. It actually could have been interpreted as an anti-Google ad.

Did Google do the right thing running the spot? I think so, sure. I doubt most people will share my dark interpretation. And I feel no less good about the company and the brand than I did before. What's most interesting to me, as a communications professional, is noting how a message can have multiple interpretations as well as the larger question of what a brand with the stature of Google (or Coca-Cola or a handful of others) should do in advertising.

Now all we need to do is figure out an explanation for