I have been on the road for the last week and a half, and something remarkable happened while I was away. Google went from being the darling of the internet to something poised on the verge of branding ignominy. WTF?
Many things are happening at once here. John Battelle’s book about Google is being talked about. Google is on the verge of a second stock offering. There are two new products, Talk and Desktop 2, that reveal more comprehensive ambitions in the marketplace. The article by Elinor Mills, a CNET staff writer, has been released and Google has blacklisted CNET.
The most striking public event in the last 10 days: the press is now prepared to speak ill of Google. Criticism has become a thinkable posture.
I guess this was inevitable The anti-Microsoft could not hope to remain so forever. As it grew, Google would eventually lose it’s "little guy" status and risk reclassification as the new bully on the scene.
But what is interesting for a marketer is to watch this event play out in one’s own head. Over the last few years, Google had wormed its way into my affections. I had made it my search engine, my email supplier, and my desktop search engine. I was impressed by the product development strategies and other aspects of the corporate culture. I was pleased to see Google anoint itself as an enemy of the philistine Microsoft.
And then in the last ten days, things shifted. Call me capricious. Call me inconstant. Call me superficial. But suddenly I could feel the brand slips its moorings. For a marketer, this is a revelational moment. We are there at the moment of creation, in this case, recreation. We are there to feel the brand sliding out of one meaning and sit poised on the verge of others.
Most of cultural meanings come draped in their own inevitability…even when they are that particularly subset of meaning, the brand. We don’t choose to think them. They’re just there. We don’t give them their authority. They bring that with them when they enter our world. We don’t give brands their power or their meanings. We merely honor what is extant.
Until things change. Google is now exploring that moment when the brand is suddenly separated from the meanings and the glory thrust upon it. (No doubt, some of these meanings were crafted through good marketing. But only some.) Now, the thing, the brand, is negotiable. Now its labile. Now we know what Google does next, and how we respond will make this thing in our heads called “Google.”
Now the hard work of marketing begins in earnest. I wish them well. I think.