Even After Super Bowl, Google Plays the Reluctant Advertiser

Super Bowl commercial? What Super Bowl commercial?

Such was the none-too-subtle message of a blog post written by Google CEO Eric Schmidt Sunday night after the company aired its first-ever Super Bowl ad. The 60-second spot was not, in fact, a commercial, he wrote, but one installment of a 7-part video series at YouTube.com/searchstories called “Search On.” The company thought the clip, produced in 2009, deserved a bigger stage.

“We didn’t set out to do a Super Bowl ad, or even a TV ad for search,” Schmidt wrote. “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 tone of the post – somewhere between aloof and dismissive – may seem odd coming from a company that just dropped as much as $6 million for a minute of airtime on the nation’s premier advertising platform. But it speaks volumes about Google’s mixed feelings as the company increasingly resorts to the traditional marketing tactics it has long eschewed.

For a company built on advertising, Google has long been known to harbor an institutional distaste for traditional tactics like broadcast or print ads. But as the Mountain View, Calif-based search giant seeks to extend its brand into new markets, and as Microsoft’s Bing attempts to chip away at its share of search traffic, Google is increasingly turning to the old-style tactics it once prided itself on doing without.

Google ran the first television ad in its history last year to promote its new Internet browser, Chrome. It also ran a billboard campaign across four cities last year called “Gone Google,” encouraging companies to switch to Google apps for their business needs.

Last fall, the company hired Russell Reynolds Associates to help find its first VP of Americas marketing. Around the same time, it also began hunting for a director of marketing, media and Platforms.

On Monday, a Google spokeswoman declined to comment on whether those positions had yet been filled.

She did acknowledge that TV advertising wasn’t exactly in Google’s comfort zone, calling it “an unconventional method (for Google),” in an e-mail message. But she indicated it’s something Google would likely be doing more of.

“We have a TV advertising business because we believe that TV advertising is an effective way to reach consumers,” she wrote. She also reiterated that “Google increased its investment in marketing during the fourth quarter of 2009, and we plan to continue to do that where it makes sense.”

Despite Google’s seemingly queasy feelings about appearing on “the big game,” observers today largely applauded the move, calling the ad emotional and one of the game’s more memorable spots. The ad told the story of an unseen man who meets, marries and starts a family with a French woman through the Google searches he performs as the relationship matures.

Marty Orzio, partner and chief creative office of ad agency Gotham in New York, called the ad “a classic little love story told beautifully” that highlighted why Google was different from the competition.

“If you think about Bing or any of their competition, nobody else can say they are playing an important role in people’s lives,” he said. “They have not have been around long enough to have an impact like that. Google is claiming territory that only they can claim, which is why I thought it was absolutely brilliant.”

Of course, not everyone thought it was a wise investment for a brand whose name is already synonymous with search. In the words of YouTube commenter ShadyHady this morning. “Google commercials? Isn’t that rather like, say, oxygen commercials or knife and fork commercials?”

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