Cannes, France-- Google is having a moment here at the Cannes Lions ad festival. The company, its in-house agency Creative Lab, and its external agency partners have taken Grand Prix, gold, and silver honors for work deemed creatively brilliant and technically inventive. And its chairman, Eric Schmidt, was named media person of the year.
It's a big change. Just two years ago, the idea of buying mass-market ads driven by a creative concept was anathema. Google barely advertised its products at all, much less via flashy TV spots and billboards. If they were good enough, the thinking went, they would succeed.
But as the company rolled out product after product in competitive categories, it had a change of heart. The shoe finally dropped in February 2010, when Google paid CBS somewhere around $3 million to run a Super Bowl spot.
Since then it has aggressively expanded its advertising activity, launching campaigns for products like Chrome, Talk, Android, Gmail, and its core search product. This week's avalanche of awards shows just how far it has come.
Eric Schmidt, speaking here Wednesday, recalled the day Google's board approved its Super Bowl ad.
"'Hell has frozen over,'" he remembers saying. "In the decade that I'd been with the company we would never have thought that there's value in that."
Google's approach to the ad was characteristic. Rather than simply create what it thought was a good ad, it published several at once on YouTube in the weeks before the game. It aired the one with the most views.
Then, when the ad finally ran, Schmidt claims Google was able to evaluate its return on investment very quickly by measuring the post-game spike in traffic and ad revenue. He said the ad paid for itself.
"We took a Super Bowl ad and turned it into an ROI product," he said.
So far Google has sunk its newfound creative talent into ad concepts for its own products. Should agencies worry it will go around around them? Will it become, officially, a competitor?
ClickZ posed that question to Nick Law, Cyber jury president and chief creative officer of R/GA. His take: "They're competing with agencies for talent, that's for sure. But no, they're a partner to agencies."
Google's Lion-winning ads tend to provide valuable or immersive experiences that take the form of product demonstrations.
Here's what it's won so far this week:
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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