The Google Ad During Super Bowl XLIV: How Hell Froze Over

In the days leading up to February 7, 2010, there was much online speculation about a rumor that Google would air an advertisement during Super Bowl XLIV. Certain people claiming to be “in the know” were certain that it would happen, but many found it hard to believe. That skepticism had a lot to do with Google’s long-standing attitude toward brand advertising, which CEO Eric Schmidt denounced as “the last bastion of unaccountable spending in corporate America” back in 2006.

But the rumors were confirmed the day before the Super Bowl, when Schmidt himself posted on Twitter:

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Of course, as anyone who watched the Super Bowl or visits Digg or has heard of YouTube knows by now, when Google finally decided to advertise, they came out of the gates strong. It’s my favorite Super Bowl XLIV ad by a longshot, and I don’t think that’s just because I am in SEO.

So it’s true: hell has indeed frozen over. But what could so fundamentally change the direction of a company that always seems to know exactly where it’s going?

The same reason any company feels the need to invest in brand advertising, I would imagine: fear of the competition. The timing of Google’s commercial seems to confirm this assumption. Just two months ago, on Dec. 4, 2009, Microsoft and Yahoo! finalized their merger agreement. And while Google’s 65% share of the U.S. search market still dominates the landscape, the combined force that is Bing+Yahoo effectively holds 30%, representing (by far) the largest competitor Google has faced in years.

So Google’s surprising decision to enter the arena of brand advertising is perhaps not so surprising. But by acknowledging Bing as a competitor worthy of a 180-degree policy change, Google not only reminds the SEO industry of the importance of the “other” search engine; it looks, for the first time in nearly a decade, a little more human as well.

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