The Google Superbowl Ad: Why Now?

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...

Android and Google and Branding

If you are a marketing person and you haven’t been following what Google is doing with Android, you should be because it’s fascinating stuff. Android is a mobile operating system that was developed by the company of the same name, acquired by Google, and is now an open source project developed by a The Open Handset Alliance, a multinational alliance of technology and mobile industry leaders including Google, Motorola, Samsung, Sprint, HTC and around 40 others.  The stated goal of the Alliance is to create “greater openness in the mobile ecosystem”, allowing the industry to “innovate more rapidly and respond better to consumers’ demands.” There are currently more than 20 different devices that run Android including the new flagship devices from Motorola and Samsung.  There is a Google-controlled Android Marketplace with over 10,000 applications that run on the OS.  Because the code is open source, handset manufacturers are free to extend it to support any hardware they like which means you can have phones with both touch screens and keyboards and screens with various resolutions.  Android also lets you have multiple applications running simultaneously (something Blackberries have done forever but iPhones cannot do).  On the surface, smart phones running Android offer compelling advantages over the iPhone and Blackberry where customers can get the best of both worlds in terms of a touch screen, a hard keyboard, a pile of interesting applications, a choice of carriers, etc. Oh but there are devilish details…… First of all, not all Android devices are created equal.  There are now 3 different releases of the OS installed on phones being sold today.  There are...

Marketing Lessons from Foursquare

Foursquare is a location-based social networking application that’s been described “Twitter for locations.”  It lets users subscribe to each other and the information shared is about where you are rather than what you are doing.  It’s been rolling out on a city by city basis over the past few months.  I finally got a chance to try it and I think there are some interesting things that marketers can learn from foursquare. Winning is Fun – unlike Twitter, foursquare has been designed as a game. Users earn points for checking in and foursquare publishes a leaderboard for your friends and your city.  Users win badges for things like checking in a set number of times in a month or consecutive nights in a week that get displayed on their profiles.  Users who have checked into a given location the most number of times in a month become the “Mayor” of that location.  Competing for the Mayorship of a given location is another fun aspect of the game and further encourages use.  OK, as games go, it isn’t the funnest one I’ve ever played but nonetheless the idea of surprise rewards or bragging rights for desired behavior is one that marketers should think about. People Like to Show Off – Anyone on FaceBook can tell you that folks like to show off.  Foursquare has an element of that (look, I’m the mayor of a hot new restaurant!) without it being the only reason to use the application.  Product marketers need to think about how to let users brag about their experience or expertise with their products. Users Will Work for You (If There’s Something in it for...

Microsoft and the Market for “Everything”

The lead story in the Sunday New York Times Business section this week focused on Microsoft’s broad business strategy.  Titled “Forecast for Microsoft: Partly Cloudy”, the piece included interesting quotes from various Microsoft executives discussing how cloud computing fits into their overall strategy and how they differentiate themselves.  This paragraph caught my attention: (Microsoft CEO) Steve Ballmer contends that Microsoft is the only company prepared and positioned to merge computing from both ends – the desktop and the cloud.  “We’re just investing more broadly than everybody else,” he says, adding that when it comes to software, “I want us to invent everything that’s important on the planet.” (emphasis mine) How’s that for a mandate? What does Microsoft do? Everything. Microsoft is one of the few vendors out there trying to simultaneously serve both the business and consumer markets.  While it’s true they have huge resources, even big companies run the risk of being spread too thin.  On the surface Microsoft’s $10 billion budget for research and development seems large enough to tackle “everything” until you start looking down a list that includes desktop software, data center software, developer tools, health care systems, video game consoles and games, music payers, phones and phone software, Web properties, and office collaboration products. Offering customers a broad set of products and services is one of its great strengths, according to Microsoft.  Being able to offer solutions spaning PC’s, browsers and a proliferating set of hand-held devices (part of what Ray Ozzie, chief software architect at Microsoft calls “the gizmo revolution.”), is valuable and part of what sets Microsoft apart from its competitors. But...

I’ll Take a Bold: The Starbucks Via Launch

I normally cover startup technology on this blog but occasionally I think it’s good to look at what’s happening in the wider world of marketing to see if there are lessons we can learn and apply to our little corner of the world. This week Starbucks launched Starbucks Via, a product they describe as a “breakthrough in instant coffee”.  The company says they have worked for 20 years to develop a process of making instant coffee that preserves the coffee’s taste, quality and freshness to the point where a cup of Via tastes just like a fresh brewed cup of Starbucks coffee. My first reaction when I heard about Via was “Are they nuts!?”  What happened to the “third place” coffee house experience?  Do Sanka drinkers dream of coffee made from “the highest-quality, ethically sourced 100% arabica beans?” What happens to their “premium” brand when customers see it in the grocery store next to Folger’s?   If this stuff really tastes as good as brewed Starbucks, aren’t they encouraging customers to stay at home drinking $1 cups of Via rather than visiting their nearest Starbucks for a non-fat, extra-hot Mocha Frappuchino for $4? Positioning: Us vs. Us not Us vs. Them Starbucks hasn’t gone so far as to claim that Via isn’t instant coffee (a common tactic when re-defining a category) but they are careful not to compare themselves directly to Sanka or Nescafe.  The reference point is their own brewed coffee.  Via is described in their marketing as instant coffee that “tastes as delicious as our brewed.  Almost was not an option.” This is a bold (sorry I...

Google Chrome OS: Dissecting A Great Marketing Announcement

Last week I was having a heated discussion with another marketer about Google’s marketing and my position was that Google’s marketing hasn’t impressed me much.  And by marketing I mean the way they launch, message and position products.  The exception has been Google Chrome which I’ve written about before and I thought was a good launch.  My argument was that they didn’t do a great job of articulating the value of their products. Today the Chrome team has announced Google Chrome OS and I’m going to have to go back to my friend and eat crow because this is a fantastic piece of marketing. The blog post on the announcement can be seen here.  Go and read it.  This is textbook example of how to build momentum and mindshare in a market (while causing your key competitor considerable grief) with a product that isn’t going to see the light of day for a year and a half. Here’s how they do it: Establish credibility – In just 9 months they now have 30million regular users of Google Chrome.  This is the “we know what we are doing and now we are going to do something even better” part of the announcement. Tell us what it is – “Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks.” Read that again.  It doesn’t seem hard to come up with a one-liner that describes what your product is or does but almost nobody does it well. I’m at the first line of the second paragraph and I’m paying attention (see point 1) and I...
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