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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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