Contemporary Culture, Revealed

Ever want to know what the online masses are thinking about… what they’re looking for… how best to target your messages to tap into their wants and needs? Doesn’t every marketer?

Some mesmerizing statistics recently released by Google and Yahoo can provide some insight about 2002, revealing what was on the collective minds of Internet users — at least those who visit these very popular search engines. They aren’t scientific, but Yahoo’s Year in Review Buzz Index and Google’s Year-End Zeitgeist certainly got me thinking about what’s going on out there. Hopefully, they’ll spark some creative ideas for you, too.

Top of Mind

First, let’s take a peek at the people, places, and things — including top brands — that were issuing from the keyboards of Internet users in 2002. Google ranks Spider-Man at the top of its “gaining queries,” and the superhero is accompanied by a smattering of other brands. In music, there’s Shakira (number 2), Avril Lavigne (number 5), Eminem (number 7), Las Ketchup (number 14), Pink (number 17), and Gareth Gates (number 18).

Sports were also on people’s minds, as the Winter Olympics (number 3) and the World Cup (number 4) registered in the cultural zeitgeist. Other entertainment brands making the top 20 were the Star Wars movies (number 6), television shows such as “American Idol” (number 8) and the French reality TV show “Loft Story 2” (number 19).

But what really sparked the searches were video games such as Morrowind (number 9), WarCraft III (number 10), Dungeon Siege (number 12), Neverwinter Nights (number 15), and Battlefield 1942 (number 16).

Oddball searches, interesting for their ability to stand out so strongly in their categories, went to instant messaging application Trillian (number 13) and furniture retailer Ikea (number 20).

Over on Yahoo, the video game theme continues, with Sony’s PlayStation 2 garnering the greatest number of searches. Next up was the ever-popular Britney Spears, accompanied by fellow musicians Jennifer Lopez (number 9), Nelly (number 11), Shakira (number 16), and Ja Rule (number 18). Third, from the TV and film arena, comes Japanese anime phenom Dragon Ball Z. Also in that category were Harry Potter (number 10), Spider-Man (number 13), and Lord of the Rings (number 15).

Web sites and software were represented by KaZaA (number 4), Morpheus (number 7), and Neopets (number 20). Sports brands making an appearance (and I’m defining “sports” loosely here) were WWE (number 6), the NFL (number 12), NASCAR (number 14), the 2002 World Cup (number 17), and the NBA (number 19).

The oddball entry here is much more serious than the rest
— the Internal Revenue Service (number 8), the appearance of which proves that people do go to the Internet for major decision making.

Undiscovered Gems

What does all this mean to marketers? Well, aside from aspiring to have your brand rank up there with PlayStation, you can use these search terms to optimize your search engine marketing efforts (if your site genuinely relates in some way to these high-flying brands). Other great resources for this type of inquiry are Overture’s Search Term Suggestion and View Bids tools. Additionally, you might consider aligning yourself with one of the most-searched-for brands, as Pepsi did with Britney Spears before putting her aside as a corporate spokes-singer in favor of Beyonce Knowles (unranked).

OK, so maybe not all of us are quite on the Britney level, but hidden in the search results may be a relatively unknown up-and-comer who is getting buzz among the early adopter/opinion leader crowd. For example, have you ever heard of Las Ketchup? Well, by looking at Google, you can deduce that La Ketchup — whatever it is — was a bona fide phenomenon in 2002.

In Spain, the craze peaked in May, but it was just beginning to seriously take hold in the U.S. by November. There were Las Ketchup ring tones for phones, Las Ketchup AOL buddy icons, and, of course, Las Ketchup MP3s. Las Ketchup, by the way, is a Spanish pop group comprising three sisters, named thusly because their father, a traditional flamenco guitarist, was known as Tomate (Tomato). Interestingly, although Google ranked Las Ketchup 14th in its list of “gaining queries,” the group didn’t rank high enough to make the Yahoo Buzz Index, perhaps reflecting the relative lack of interest in the U.S. (so far).

Beyond all of these motivations for keeping up with the search terms of the moment, it’s just plain fun. I’m a little embarrassed to say that while researching this column I ran into quite a few brand names that were entirely new to me. Then, while trying to figure them out, I became hopelessly entwined in fan pages and other exceptionally distracting sites. But next time I’m out and hear the catchy tune of “The Ketchup Song,” I’ll be ready with the appropriate dance steps. Take a few minutes during the slow holiday period and do a little old-fashioned surfing yourself, and get more in touch with popular culture. It may serve you well in your next marketing campaign.

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