Competitors from Apple to Hulu have to be quaking. Google, which controls what could be one of the most powerful advertising media in modern times, is giving hints that it will begin to use it more aggressively.
Google.com has been used twice in the last two weeks to help the company gain an advantage in two booming fields: tablets and online video. The site -- so well-trafficked it has given rise to a verb -- could offer Google all kinds of enviable marketing options.
And the cost? Zip. Free advertising reaching gazillions of people? Sounds like a nice deal.
First was last week’s ad for the Nexus 7 tablet, Google’s challenger to the iPad and Kindle Fire. A Nexus product shot popped up so fast visitors couldn’t depart without getting a glimpse.
There was also a link to a Nexus page -- with a special offer -- that appeared below the iconic search bar in copy reading: “The playground is open. The new $199 tablet from Google.”
Now, another text-with-link has emerged in the same Google.com spot: “Live! Watch Barack Obama accept the Democratic presidential nomination at 10 p.m. ET.”
Google bills itself as working for the public interest. It seemed an attempt to encourage people to take an interest in the future of their country. Not fully -- it’s an attempt by Google to boost its commercial interests.
The link leads to a YouTube Politics hub with Democratic National Convention coverage. The site offers a YouTube Spotlight stream and other feeds from ABC News, Univision, Buzzfeed and a Larry King-fronted venture, where Hulu is involved. There had been nearly 3.8 million video views as of Thursday morning.
With pre-roll ads running in some of the videos, Google is likely to get a cut of the dollars. At the same time, the traffic can only serve as an enviable YouTube promotional vehicle as it launches a slew of well-funded channels.
As for Google.com, if indeed Google plans to increasingly turn it into a house-ad mansion, promotions for its products could pose an immense threat to leaders in so many industries.
There’s Google Play, the media store that competes with iTunes, Hulu Plus and Netflix. Some TV manufacturers might chafe at ads for Google TV. Deal site Google Offers competes with Groupon and Living Social. And there’s an opportunity to inject a more visible promotion for Facebook challenger Google+. (All Things Digital reports that an animated ad for the social-media site has run.)
And of course, there are all those Google forays in the smartphone space. There, Google has run promotions on its home page at least twice.
(Google.com has had promotions for the Chrome browser. It has also tried to gin up donations after natural disasters abroad such as a tsunami or hurricane.)
What was startling about last week’s Nexus ad was how willing Google was to infringe on its wonderfully austere home page via the pop-up. How far is it willing to go? Would a clip of “Breaking Bad” automatically play alongside the search bar with a link to Google Play, where episodes cost $1.99? How about a TV ad for Nexus -- a nice one is running now -- unspooling in similar fashion (there would be no DVR-ing it)?
Actually, less could be more.
So long as Google keeps the page mostly spartan, a short promo line below the search bar could be more noticeable than the type of bells and whistles that have become wallpaper elsewhere on the Web.
Any Google.com promotions carry an overtone of how much Google is eager to move into new businesses and chase profits. Take the well-referenced 2005 comments of former Google executive and now Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer:
“There will be no banner ads on the Google home page or Web search results pages,” she wrote on a Google blog. “There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever.”
Now, there has been at least one example. Would Google reverse course more drastically by putting Google.com real estate up for sale to outsiders? Wall Street would love it.