When news of this broke a week or so ago, I thought “Well, it was about time Google started to play ball with the movie folks, the way Yahoo has for years.” Sure, it’s interesting that Google is finally jumping into the cross promotion pool – this ain’t a big Adwords buy, after all – but we all expected this day to come. Then I got a call from Marissa Mayer at Google, on Friday, with promise of an embargoed story. Usually Marissa is calling folks like me when a major new product is launching, like Fusion, or Finance. But this time, it was not a product, it was a promotional alliance between Sony Pictures and Google.
Now, this doesn’t strike me as big news, at least, not initially. Sure, Google and Sony are teaming up in a unique way, combining their brands to promote the Da Vinci Code. And sure, it’s being done in a particularly “Googley” way – with puzzles and codes and a contest that will ultimately crown a grand prize winner just as the movie is coming out. But….let’s consider this for a minute.
This marks Google’s first major step into the world of pure co-branded promotion, at least here in the US (we saw the Nike soccer site just a few weeks ago as well, but that was, well, soccer. For movie obsessed Americans, it didn’t have quite the same impact, and it didn’t have the same profile that this one has, for more on that, keep reading). And while this seems pretty tame – Sony is paying Google for all that traffic, right? – the deal is in fact more complicated. Because Marissa assured me that no money is changing hands here. In other words, Google feels it is getting as much from this as Sony is. Why?
Well, because this is more than just a movie promotion. It’s a Google products promotion as well. The puzzles and codes will drive people through Google’s products – not just search, but Calendar, Mail, Talk, and – in particular – the personalized homepage. In fact, to even get started, you have to set up a Google account. Mayer told me, in no uncertain terms, that the strategic goals of this promotion for Google was to familiarize folks with Google’s services beyond search.
It ain’t a branding campaign, but it sure as hell is close. I have to say, among many other things, it’s rather clever. The effect is a big box ad for the Da Vinci code on folks’ personalized home page, yet it’s been invited in via the context, so it doesn’t feel intrusive. As for the pay off for Google, I’ll write more about that in another post.
Regardless of how clever, however, this is marketing, plain and simple. And, to restate – this ain’t your father’s AdWords. The times, they are a changin’.