Google launched their first ever major TV ad last night at the Superbowl and thinking about it I had a moment where I thought – “Oh dear, I’m watching the beginning of the end.”

I’ve worked at tech companies that spent a fortune on TV ads and I have always been a skeptic.  Unless you are doing pretty sophisticated brand tracking to measure the changes in the perception of your brand, the effects of tactics like that are almost impossible to measure and even then, trying to connect those results back to a specific TV ad is impossible.  If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it as Drucker would say.  I always had the feeling in the big tech firms I’ve worked in that TV ads were run largely out of fear.  We did them because we had always done them and nobody had the guts to pull the plug on a tactic that nobody could be really sure did something or not.  I always assumed that if we were starting fresh, the TV ads would never have happened.

Then Google does a TV ad.  At the Superbowl. Why?  Is it to reach some part of the population that’s never heard of them? Unlikely – this is the United States we’re talking about.  Was it to show off a new feature that maybe we hadn’t heard of?  Nope, the ad didn’t do that.  To launch a new product?  Nope again.  So what did the ad do?

The ad, in a word, was sweet.  It was a love story.  It was designed to have you reaching for a tissue by the end.  And people loved it because seriously, what’s not to love about that?  There was no ego.  There was no technical feature by feature sales pitch on the new Google phone.  The entire point of this ad was to make you feel good.  And by that I mean the point was to make you feel good about Google.  I thought it was a great ad, as far as ads go.

Now here’s the part where I start to worry.  If everyone already felt good about Google, would they run an ad?  What’s going on with the public perception of Google that made them feel that now was the time to influence how we feel about them?  A cynical person might start wondering if the news coming from Google lately – employee departures, growth slowing, nobody likes Google Wave, they are pulling out of China – isn’t starting to make the folks on the inside worry a bit.  Could this ad be a reaction to that?

But then again, maybe they are just being pro-active.  Maybe they look at Apple and say, nobody seems to mind it when Apple does things like lock all of your content in a proprietary format or offers a mobile platform where it controls which applications will or will not be available to run on it.  Maybe they figure we love Apple for the ads.  Heck, maybe we do.  If nothing else, the ad certainly got us all talking.

As for me, I use Google search and although I appreciate the ad, it’s not going to change my behavior in any way, nor does it make me think Google is a nicer company because of it.  It makes me want to go to Paris.  I think I’ll Google some flights right now.

You can watch the ad (and the others in the series) here.

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