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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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.