Google Thinks Outside the (Search) Box

NEW YORK Google’s roaring financial success can be credited almost entirely to the plain old text link, but these days, it’s hoping to get a bigger slice of branding budgets with video-based ad vehicles.

In coming weeks, advertisers will be able to target video spots on well-known Web destinations in Google’s AdSense network of thousands of sites, as well as run them interspersed with content on Google Video. The company is also recruiting creative agencies to tap into its tech prowess to develop new kinds of storytelling. The efforts are part of an attempt by Google to recast its image with advertisers as an ad platform that is as effective for building awareness and consideration as it is for closing sales.

“We’re trying to prove you can get an equal audience to cable with more interactivity and a much lower cost,” said Gokul Rajaram, a Google group product manager.

(The efforts come as Google is reportedly negotiating a $1.6 billion deal to acquire video-sharing sensation YouTube, a deal that would greatly expand its potential for video-based advertising.)

For all its success, Google has proven far from infallible when it comes to expanding into new ad markets. Google’s contextual ads have been widely adopted, but mostly by advertisers extending direct response search efforts. Though it has been selling banner ads for two years, those have not been widely adopted by brand advertisers, according to agency execs. The company has also been late to the now red-hot market for video ads, introducing its first product only in May, and not offering pre-roll spots, the most common placement. Instead, Google’s video ads appear on Web pages and only play when a user initiates them.

Patrick Benson, svp and director of digital marketing at Interpublic’s Deutsch, said his clients only use Google for direct response, instead running video spots with Yahoo, MSN and network broadband sites. “They don’t create a lot of content,” he said of Google. “That’s where they’re behind the eight ball a little bit.”

Google execs said they feel positive about their new approach, pointing to recent video placement ads from Paramount, General Motors, Sony and Honda.

The company also claims that so far user-initiated video spots on its network have reached 100 million people per month. (It will not disclose how many videos were actually seen.) And with the addition of brand-name sites like, Google hopes it will also lure advertisers put off by its far-flung network.

When Honda tested the video ads for the Civic, Honda’s agency, Santa Monica, Calif., independent RPA, tailored the spots to niche sites using Google’s site-targeting feature. (The feature allows brands to create their own mini-ad network by compiling a list of sites on which to show their ads.) Since the user-initiated spots are new, the agency is still refining its approach, said Michael Margolin, vp and associate media director at RPA. “We’re not sure that encouraging someone to click to play [a video] is better than having someone visit [a] site that’s much more engaging than the ad,” he said.

Google also plans to expand its use of in-stream advertising on Google Video, which in June ran tests of free episodes of The Charlie Rose Show with ads played at the end. It will add more programs to the mix, said Rajaram, as well as new formats. It is also working with advertisers on deals like a recent OfficeMax promo that built a Google Video microsite for Schooled, a back-to-school branded entertainment show on ABC Family.

Such campaigns are part of what Google executives say is a slow evolution, one that will hopefully result in advertisers thinking of it as more than “just a search engine.”

As part of Google’s outreach to creative shops, it contacted Omnicom’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners four months ago. The result is a wide-ranging campaign for General Motors’ Saturn that uses Google’s click-to-play video ads, satellite mapping software and geo-targeting system to whisk users virtually to a local showroom. The agency is working with Google on campaigns for a half-dozen clients, according to Rich Silverstein, co-chairman at Goodby.

“They make amazing stuff that they don’t know what to do with yet,” he said. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg of what we can do.”