Commentary

For 2010, Expect Display Ads On The Google Homepage

A quick scan through the archives of the Google Event Logos -- those cute sketches that have appeared on the Google homepage over the years -- shows two interesting trends.

--      First, the Logos (aka Doodles) are far more high-quality than they have been in the past (compare 2001 logos with 2009 logos to see what I mean).

--     Second -- and I think far more significantly -- there were far more brands incorporated  into the logos in 2009 than ever before.

I don't think that's a coincidence. I think that Google is preparing us for display ads on the Google homepage -- perhaps as early as 2010.

The Google Logos: Some History

An historical perspective is helpful here. Traditionally, the Logos have been Google's way of celebrating major cultural, historical, or scientific significance events-like the Apollo moon landing, Mother's Day, or the birthday of Martin Luther King. Brand-based doodles have been scant. By my count, 2008 featured only four homepage Doodles that were arguably brand-based:

  1. 50 years of Lego (Jan. 28)
  2. Manga character Astro Boy (only in Japan, on April 7)
  3. 25th anniversary of Paddington Bear (Oct. 13)
  4. 25th anniversary of the Australian Opera house, Australia, Oct. 20t.

That's a total of 4 brand-based logos, only two of which were international, and at least one (the Australian Opera House) which could easily be written off as an image of a cultural icon -- and not a true brand at all.

Now compare that list with the 2009 Google brand-related Logos:

  1. Dr. Seuss birthday logo; images including the Cat and the Hat, courtesy of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, March 2
  2. Tetris (the addictive video game classic) 25th anniversary (appeared in "selected countries"), June 6
  3. Comic-Con, featuring DC Comics characters (appeared in US), July 23
  4. Doraemon, a celebrated Japanese manga character, (Japan), September 3
  5. Asterix Comic's 50th anniversary (selected countries), October 29
  6. Wallace and Grommit 20th anniversary ("selected global" countries), Nov. 4
  7. Sesame Street 40th anniversary, Nov 4
  8. Sesame Street 40th anniversary, Nov 5
  9. Sesame Street 40th anniversary, Nov 6
  10. Sesame Street 40th anniversary, Nov 7
  11. Sesame Street 40th anniversary, Nov 8
  12. Sesame Street 40th anniversary, Nov 9
  13. Sesame Street 40th anniversary, Nov 10
  14. 50th anniversary of German children's cartoon Sandmännchen (Germany), Nov 22
  15. Thanksgiving Logo featuring Snoopy and Woodstock (US), November 26
  16. Birthday of E.C. Segar, creator of Popeye, featuring a picture of Popeye (global), Dec 8

To be sure, Google has limited itself to brands of very deep cultural resonance-a Google Logo featuring Big Bird or Popeye is different than, say, a Google logo featuring the Nike Swoosh. But it's hard to ignore a growing trend-and a subtle shift from Google Logos free of major brands in past years.

Not Just Doodles

The Doodles aren't the only shift on the Google home page. Another subtle shift in the direction of advertising is the overlay and top right corner messages about Google Chrome that appeared on Google.com this December. A special message within Google about a Google feature may not technically qualify as an ad; but it certainly lays the groundwork for other special messages-including special branded messages-in the future.

It isn't surprising that 2009 would be the year when Google takes initial steps towards homepage advertising. 2009 has been a big year for Google and display, with launches ranging from the DoubleClick display advertising Exchange, to product images within search results, to movie trailer videos within search results. And Google's own display work, in turn, is part of a still larger trend-the merging of search and display media, which we should also expect to see more of next year.

And so the real lesson here isn't about Google Doodles alone. It's that, for 2010, search marketers will need to integrate search with their broader media buying program more than ever before. Expect that trend to show up on the Google homepage, within Google search results, and beyond. Count on it.

4 comments about "For 2010, Expect Display Ads On The Google Homepage ".
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  1. Susan Kuchinskas from freelance, December 29, 2009 at 11:51 a.m.

    Very canny analysis, Steve. I remember when a Google doodle was so surprising and exciting.

    I also remember that Google was originally loved precisely for its stripped-down interface, in contrast to Yahoo's cluttered "portal." If Google.com goes in this direction, will we care? Is the cluttered page new again?

  2. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., December 29, 2009 at 12:16 p.m.

    I disagree.

    Google's uncluttered homepage is an important aspect of their brand, and keeping it uncluttered and noncommercial is part of "Do No Evil." Obviously, over the years, they've become more clever about using their enormous homepage traffic to tweak user behavior, but these tweaks are as likely to do something memorable to promote Google's brand at toplevel (for example, the Halloween-2009 implementation of fade-in options around the search bar, which actually simplifies the homepage to early-days standards) than the Doodles are to reference something arguably part of the commercial culture. And in the latter case, as your catalog of Doodles demonstrates, they use the Doodle to comment on what they value, or what they imagine their user community might value.

    I honestly think it's a very non-cynical exercise, and that's good, because it's the most-visited homepage on the internet, so this is the most powerful and subtle branding tool that's ever existed. A little bit of circumspection and awe is a good thing when you're playing with that kind of leverage.

    To me, this looks more like Google is simply taking Doodles more seriously as time goes on - as well they should. We know they have a full-time manager and a couple of art folks running the Doodles program now, and it makes sense this staff would be exploring the memespace for possible themes, and figuring out new and interesting (but fundamentally non-corrupt) ways of using this device to communicate. I would bet one of the highly-politicized ongoing discussions they engage in is the one about whether or not to segment (regionally, demographically, by behavioral targeting, etc.) Doodles, or to leave 'checking out today's Doodle' as (arguably) "the last daily, widely-shared human meme-experience in Western Culture" -- a position held in prior centuries by the mass, Bible reading, by television, and by the headlines of key daily papers.

  3. Chuck Hildebrandt from Self, December 30, 2009 at 9:54 a.m.

    The headline is misleading. As constructed, it suggests that Google has already made the decision to show display ads on the home page, or at least that it is in open discussion. Instead, it is merely the opinion of the writer, who it could be argued has a business interest in the idea. If a non-interested journalist reports it in a news vehicle without interest, then I'll give the idea some credence. Absent that, this will have to be dismissed this as a wish.

  4. Anissa Wardell from The Publicists Assistant, January 6, 2010 at 4:28 p.m.

    Ok, well today they do have an ad for the Nexus phone...Loved the article...would love to hear more, especially since I am seeing a text ad about their new phone!

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