The ADgenda: highs and lows of the Google Chrome campaign

The web is what Google...I mean you make of it.

Despite being one of the biggest advertisers in the world, $250 bn internet giant Google only started advertising its own brand in 2010. Since this time, the company has sought to create a brand image as hip, friendly and modern as the bean bags in its offices' break-out areas.

Its most prominent campaign has been the series of Google Chrome ads. All are produced in the same format (that has now been copied by Microsoft)a plinky-plonky/ edgy soundtrack accompanies a montage of screen grabs and clicks showing how Chrome has changed lives. The thread that unites them is the inspiring, yet faintly antagonistic phrase - “The web is what you make of it.”

Those of the ads that use real internet success stories are examples of slick technology advertising at its best. One particularly effective montage documents the rise of Jamal Edwards 20-year-old founder of online music channel SBTV, another focuses on Julie Deane building her fashion business, Cambridge Satchels, from her kitchen.

The best of these highly-produced adverts charts the ascent of the online 'It Gets Better' campaign, created to give hope to bullied homosexual teens. This ad warms your heart, even if you are faintly aware that the advertising team at Google HQ (most likely sitting on bean bags) has concocted it to do just that.

Google does a great job at displaying the internet's potential to spread ideas, make money, and provide comfort, syphoning all the dynamism and warmth from the stars of their ads, and pumping it in to the Google brand. But when the Google ad team try to get creative by inventing their own emotional dramas, with the world wide web as protagonist, the result is significantly less effective. Does anyone remember "Dear Hollie"? To a backtrack of twinkling piano and swelling strings, we're treated to intimate screen-grabs of a Father constantly emailing pictures and videos of his growing daughter, to his growing daughter. He ends by saying "I have been emailing you all your life", begging the question – why didn't you just keep a photo album like a normal human? I can picture the scene: little Hollie toddles over to Dad, he is sat on a stool in the corner of the room, avidly filming, he tells her: “Leave me alone. I need to upload this footage to Youtube right away.... Don't cry Hollie, you'll thank me when you turn 10 and we get to read all 9,00 emails together.”

The Google chrome ad team give the one-minute tear-jerker another go with their "Second Chance" ad in which fictional young professional, Mark Potter, tries to win back his ex-girlfriend Jen using the seductive magic of technology. Apparently the way to get back with a disgruntled ex-lover is to upload all your most intimate moments on to Youtube and then to make a Google map of all the places you went together, with special emphasis on the park where you broke up.

American group UCB comedy get the absurdity of the hyperlinked love letter bang on in their 'Jen's response' video. The authentic creativity of the Youtube spoof, which has attracted over 80 000 views, is ironically the most perfect demonstration of the Chrome campaign's slogan: the web is what you make of it.   

The web is what you make of it. Photograph: youtube.com
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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.