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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What happens when a president refuses to step down?

An approaching constitutional crisis has triggered deep political unrest in the Congo.

Franck Diongo reached his party’s headquarters shortly after 10am and stepped out of a Range Rover. Staff and hangers-on rose from plastic chairs to greet the president of the Mouvement Lumumbiste Progressiste (MLP), named after the first elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Diongo, a compact and powerfully built man, was so tightly wound that his teeth ground as he talked. When agitated, he slammed his palms on the table and his speech became shrill. “We live under a dictatorial regime, so it used the security forces to kill us with live rounds to prevent our demonstration,” he said.

The MLP is part of a coalition of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement. Its aim is to ensure that the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, who has been president since 2001, leaves office on 19 December, at the end of his second and supposedly final term.

Yet the elections that were meant to take place late last month have not been organised. The government has blamed logistical and financial difficulties, but Kabila’s opponents claim that the president has hamstrung the electoral commission in the hope that he can use his extended mandate to change the rules. “Mr Kabila doesn’t want to quit power,” said Diongo, expressing a widespread belief here.

On 19 September, the Rassemblement planned a march in Kinshasa, the capital, to protest the failure to deliver elections and to remind the president that his departure from office was imminent. But the demonstration never took place. At sunrise, clashes broke out between police and protesters in opposition strongholds. The military was deployed. By the time peace was restored 36 hours later, dozens had died. Kabila’s interior minister, claiming that the government had faced down an insurrection, acknowledged the deaths of 32 people but said that they were killed by criminals during looting.

Subsequent inquiries by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) told a different story. They recorded more fatalities – at least 53 and 56, respectively – and said that the state had been responsible for most of the deaths. They claimed that the Congolese authorities had obstructed the investigators, and the true number of casualties was likely higher. According to HRW, security forces had seized and removed bodies “in an apparent effort to hide the evidence”.

The UN found that the lethal response was directed from a “central command centre. . . jointly managed” by officials from the police, army, presidential bodyguard and intelligence agency that “authorised the use of force, including firearms”.

The reports validated claims made by the Rassemblement that it was soldiers who had set fire to several opposition parties’ headquarters on 20 September. Six men were killed when the compound of the UDPS party was attacked.

On 1 November, their funerals took place where they fell. White coffins, each draped in a UDPS flag, were shielded from the midday sun by a gazebo, while mourners found shade inside the charred building. Pierrot Tshibangu lost his younger sibling, Evariste, in the attack. “When we arrived, we found my brother’s body covered in stab marks and bullet wounds,” he recalled.

Once the government had suppressed the demonstration, the attorney general compiled a list of influential figures in the Rassemblement – including Diongo – and forbade them from leaving the capital. Kinshasa’s governor then outlawed all political protest.

It was easy to understand why Diongo felt embattled, even paranoid. Midway through our conversation, his staff apprehended a man loitering in the courtyard. Several minutes of mayhem ensued before he was restrained and confined under suspicion of spying for the government.

Kabila is seldom seen in public and almost never addresses the nation. His long-term intentions are unclear, but the president’s chief diplomatic adviser maintains that his boss has no designs on altering the constitution or securing a third term. He insists that Kabila will happily step down once the country is ready for the polls.

Most refuse to believe such assurances. On 18 October, Kabila’s ruling alliance struck a deal with a different, smaller opposition faction. It allows Kabila to stay in office until the next election, which has been postponed until April 2018. A rickety government of national unity is being put in place but discord is already rife.

Jean-Lucien Bussa of the CDER party helped to negotiate the deal and is now a front-runner for a ministerial portfolio. At a corner table in the national assembly’s restaurant, he told me that the Rassemblement was guilty of “a lack of realism”, and that its fears were misplaced because Kabila won’t be able to prolong his presidency any further.

“On 29 April 2018, the Congolese will go to the ballot box to vote for their next president,” he said. “There is no other alternative for democrats than to find a negotiated solution, and this accord has given us one.”

Diongo was scathing of the pact (he called it “a farce intended to deceive”) and he excommunicated its adherents from his faction. “They are Mr Kabila’s collaborators, who came to divide the opposition,” he told me. “What kind of oppositionist can give Mr Kabila the power to violate the constitution beyond 19 December?”

Diongo is convinced that the president has no intention of walking away from power in April 2018. “Kabila will never organise elections if he cannot change the constitution,” he warned.

Diongo’s anger peaked at the suggestion that it will be an uphill struggle to dislodge a head of state who has control of the security forces. “What you need to consider,” he said, “is that no army can defy a people determined to take control of their destiny . . . The Congolese people will have the last word!”

A recent poll suggested that the president would win less than 8 per cent of the vote if an election were held this year. One can only assume that Kabila is hoping that the population will have no say at all.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage