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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear