For Google, Super Bowl Sunday was something of a departure.
In the third quarter of the game, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) aired a nearly full-minute ad promoting its search engine, marking one of the few television appearances for the company that rarely advertises and its first spot during a Super Bowl.
At it happens, the ad, “Parisian Love,” had been online for several months, posted on Google’s “Search Stories” page on YouTube where it has been viewed more than a million times.
“We didn’t set out to do a Super Bowl ad, or even a TV ad for search,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt said of the spot in a blog post. “Our goal was simply to create a series of short online videos about our products and our users, and how they interact. But we liked this video so much, and it’s had such a positive reaction on YouTube, that we decided to share it with a wider audience.”
The ad spun a narrative of a what is implied to be a young man heading to Paris for a study-abroad program, then meeting, falling in love with and marrying a French girl, telling the story through screen shots of search queries, beginning with “study abroad Paris France” through “impress a French girl,” “long distance relationship advice,” “churches in Paris” and ending with “how to assemble a crib.”
In a media blitz heavy on beer and car commercials with low-brow humor the common denominator, Google’s ad won praise for its simple and sweet—if a little saccharine—storytelling. Professors at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management awarded Google’s spot the top honors in their annual ranking of Super Bowl ads.
“The overarching goal for Super Bowl advertisers is a successful ad that resonates with their target audience,” Kellogg marketing professor Tim Calkins said in a statement. “Based on our framework, Google really embraced the key elements of a winning Super Bowl commercial with both its sentimental and practical execution.”
Schmidt had tipped his hand on Saturday that the ad was coming in a rare posting to his Twitter page, writing: “Can’t wait to watch the Superbowl tomorrow. Be sure to watch the ads in the 3rd quarter (someone said ‘Hell has indeed frozen over.’).”
Speculation had mounted that Google would use the spot to promote its recently launched Nexus One smartphone, but instead opted to highlight its core search offering, playing up the instant language-translation feature.
Google, which has built an empire through selling advertising on the Web, has spent precious little of its own resources to advertise itself. In the meantime, its principal rivals in the search space, Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), have both spent heavily to promote their own brands.
Yahoo last year launched a $100 million branding campaign, blanketing TV, print and online media with spots billing itself as the starting point of the Web. Microsoft has undertaken a more targeted, but equally ambitious, campaign to promote its Bing search engine as it aims to chip away at Google’s dominant share of the search market.
The Super Bowl spot may be a sign of a more aggressive advertising tack for Google, according to Standard and Poor’s analyst Scott Kessler.
Kessler noted that the Super Bowl spot “was well received by viewers and media experts,” and said he expected more ads to follow from the company as it looks to promote the Nexus One, the first device that Google has developed in-house and sold directly to consumers.