Google. Does. Not Market. Except When It Does.

Over the years I have often pondered the connundrum of Google as a marketing driven company. On the one hand, this company is entirely driven by marketing – hundreds of thousands of businesses, small and large, marketing themselves through the global platform that is Google AdWords and Adsense. Let's…

Over the years I have often pondered the connundrum of Google as a marketing driven company. On the one hand, this company is entirely driven by marketing – hundreds of thousands of businesses, small and large, marketing themselves through the global platform that is Google AdWords and Adsense. Let’s not kid ourselves, Google is the most impressive and important development in the history of marketing since the invention of television. And I’m not overstating it.

On the other hand, Google has made a point of how it grew without traditional marketing, how it never spends on marketing, how it’s unique that way. And yet, it’s become the most admired brand in the world! Witness: David Lawee, VP Marketing, last year in BizWeek:

Have you ever done any brand advertising just for Google? We do a lot of direct marketing. But not brand marketing.

Well, David, not true anymore. I’ve pointed this out over and over, but it’s worth repeating anyway: Google is great at harvesting brand demand, but not so good at creating that demand. It’s pretty straightforward: Demand creation = brand, Demand harvesting = direct response. Google = Demand harvesting.

But things are changing, slowly, in Google land, and the signs are everywhere. Spotted at today’s Giant’s ballgame, which I attended (good lord, how do you blow a six run lead, for goodness sakes):

Goog At Ballpark

Yes, that is Google, purchasing a sponsorship in the name of one of its applications, Google Maps, at the ballpark, on the strip of LEDs that festoon the upper decks.

You might call it a non-cpc banner display ad in the middle of the web site that is AT&T Park.

From a very early post, back when I used to write like Ars, or TC, or Om, or all those wonderful folks who now work with us at FM:

I’ve come to the conclusion that Google can no longer afford to avoid consumer marketing. In order for these services to really scale, to get to where they need to go, Google will have to start promoting them. It’s unavoidable – even if you do have the best product in the world, you need to tell people about it before they get locked into other options – Yahoo, for example, promotes Travel, Photo, and other services it owns. That’s what marketing is, after all. Sure, you probably don’t need to market Google search, nor do you need to market in traditional ways. But you sure do need to promote Picasa if you want it to be anything more than a footnote in its space.

What do you all make of Google’s push into more traditional marketing? You sure as hell can’t measure the relevance and ROI of a campaign like a billboard at a ballpark!

15 thoughts on “Google. Does. Not Market. Except When It Does.”

  1. The only google ads I’d seen (beyond sponsorships at conferences) were billboards for 800-goog411

    But since they announced that San Francisco transit info is available on google maps, they’ve been advertising on Muni wiht at least one completely wrapped J Church

    and smaller signs on buses and other muni cars

    I imagine there will be more advertising both like this and the ballpark sponsorship.

    You’d also think since they are selling print, radio, and tv ads, they’d do some advertising in those mediums if only to show potential clients their ad placement works.

  2. I was surprised a couple of weeks ago to see a Google cafe at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo. They were serving Google shakes and Google branded food. The cafe was set up temporarily to promote the search engine and other Japanese services. Incredible to see that kind of consumer marketing.

    Search marketing works extremely well when selling goods for which there is already a demand. If consumers aren’t searching for what you offer, it’s a bit trickier. We don’t see so many searches for “search engine” these days…

  3. Ms. Hopkin’s remark is very revealing: I think it shows that people no longer expect a “magic formula” to provide a one-size fits-all solution to the questions they have. They are beginning to realize that their questions can be categorized and that there are subject experts that can give far better results than using such a simpleton approach (let alone the thoroughly spammed SERPS such “one-size fits-all” engines usually return).

    Also, the fact that the top result for “hotels” may actually be a hotel search engine or that the top result for cars may be a search engine for cars (and likewise for most of the top search terms / phrases) is a strong indication of what’s ahead. To make this more clear: would anyone go into a bookstore and say “I want to buy a book”? Doesn’t that sound a little bit strange?!?

    Even when one company “takes over” the .COM keyword (as with “coffee”, which I alluded to above), that does not mean that this will be the only place to find reliable information about coffee. In time, competitors will acquire “coffee” in other TLDs and these will become competitive search engines for coffee.

    Granted, we’re still at the beginning of this development — but make no mistake: CBS got a *damned* good deal!

    🙂 nmw

  4. as i begin to type this, i notice the adwords listing on the RH gutter:

    Google Advertising
    Bring targeted traffic to your site in minutes – Try Google AdWords.

    but i digress… i really just wanted to mention that GOOG has been doing advertising lite for years now on KQED/NPR with underwriting. It comes out as an ad, in an ad-dearthful arena, but an ad none the less.

  5. John – Why at a ballpark when ALL eyes are pointed at the Golden Triangle (that is, the field!)?

    As someone pointed out above… If they’re getting into transit route maps… put it on busses, cabs or something far more creative than I’m coming up with here.

    These are wicked smart people. They ought to call our buddies at Crispin Porter. Now THOSE folks will knock it out of the park. (Subservient Chicken, Burger King…)

    I understand how they might wrestle with scaling the new stuff… analytics, maps, app engine, on and on. Just like with search, they’ll figure it out one line at a time.

  6. One of the key advantages of a brand is that it allows you to command a premium price. Until now, Google’s consumer-facing services have all been free. The imperative to continue to build the brand will grow as Google introduces products like Android to the market; products which will require consumers to use their $ to choose the brand over other, more familiar alternatives.

    However I think that for Google there is probably a third path beyond the dichotomy between harvesting brand demand and building it. The reason that Google has been so good at harvesting is that they have built a great deal of goodwill based on years of offering (free) value. In this context, harvesting has been easy. As the company looks to expand its consumer proposition, however, the ways in which it uses the potential energy stored up in this goodwill will be critical. Old models — such as scoreboard ads in ballparks — will almost certainly erode rather than build the power of the brand.

  7. I’ve seen Google on TV — after PBS shows, I think. “This show was made possible by ..”. It must have been at least a year ago.

    I can totally believe Google won’t admit it. They do some great work, but everybody there drank the kool-aid. Sometimes it seems like they speak only in hyperbole.

  8. Their ads are delivering good information. For a company that seems to have everything in beta, how they spend their valuable marketing dollars lets everyone know which products they’re actually taking seriously.

  9. Good point, Doug — and that doesn’t seem to be search, does it? (hmm — “maps” rhymes with “maps” though — maybe they can work that into their slogan sometime 😉

    I’m guessing they’re trying to figure out a direction to go once people figure out that their search engine doesn’t actually do very much (I can find and fine now, thank you very much :P).

    Perhaps a satellite image from several years ago of a place I plan to visit might be important to me someday — and I guess that is why they put the banner up at the stadium (I guess they figure they might be able to find some mom & pop shop willing to give them money to advertise their candy store so I will be able to find it while surfing on my portable device).

    It really amazes me — if I am ahead of my time, these guys are “way out there“.

    🙂 nmw

  10. I will second tim’s comments. And it was more than a year ago. Google definitely had a brand-awareness-raising commercial at the beginning of NOVA, for at least two, if not three or more years now.

    I also, in the fall of 2005, remember hearing Google ads on NPR.

    So maybe Google hasn’t done a *lot* of brand advertising of its own properties. But it is certainly nothing new.. they’ve done a little bit of it for years now. That barrier was broken a long time ago.

  11. A few years back Google started giving out these Google Maps stickers to businesses over here in the UK (; marketing, pure & simple.

    I do think though that Google, even when they’re not doing traditional consumer marketing, are doing more than harvesting demand. What they do so well, which I think you could almost define as marketing, is creating products & services which people don’t even realise they need, and then promoting them through the SERPs. Google Maps is a perfect example of this.

  12. I knew as soon as I posted that comment that I hadn’t explained myself properly.

    Google’s services (IMO) tend to do one, or both of two thing;

    * Provide an existing service, but in a far superior way (Google Maps)
    * Do something people didn’t realise they needed (search for the name of a business, and automatically get the store marked on a map)

    I’m not Google’s biggest fan, but they seem to do things on an almost daily basis which make my online ‘life’ better. And that’s as powerful as any marketing.

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