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Google Debuts First Billboards

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Google has gone offline again. After its first TV ad came out in May to promote the Chrome Web browser, the company launched an outdoor campaign themed "Go Google" for its Enterprise software.

The campaign, supporting a product that competes with Microsoft's Office suite, is composed of simple messages on four billboards in well-trafficked urban areas, will rotate every weekday for a month and will follow the inner narrative of a person making the switch to Enterprise, starting from learning of the Google applications, through frustration with another company's software and ending at satisfaction after "going Google."

This is the first push for the applications and the company's first use of billboards in its small portfolio of outdoor ads (Google has advertised on the sides of New York City buses). Developed in-house, the campaign directs to the online anchor for the applications at www.google.com/appsatwork.

The billboards are along the Massachusetts Turnpike in Boston, the West Side Highway in New York City, the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago and U.S. 101 in San Francisco. These specific locations were selected to reach as many people at once as possible, especially businesspersons.

Those who commute daily along these routes will be able to follow the narrative from start to finish. It begins with a person hearing about "going Google" and finding out that means switching to Google applications. As early as the fifth day, the person thinks, "Software upgrade costs = crazy. I want to go Google." The campaign targets these commuting businesspeople by highlighting "moments of true frustration that a lot of people feel on a regular basis," said Andy Berndt, managing director of Google Creative Labs.

The advertisements are somewhat limited due to the nature of distributing the applications for free, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group.

But Google is highlighting the money-saving aspect in its campaign as a way to attract users of more expensive programs, Microsoft being the most obvious. Microsoft Office's suites, and even individual programs, from 2007 go for hundreds of dollars. With another edition due out in 2010, the company has already tried to entice customers with elaborate action-packed trailers.

There's also a green twist to the campaign: Google opted to recycle the large amount of leftover vinyl from the ads at the end of the project. The material will be used to create limited-edition messenger and computer bags.

Google's Web site boasts that 1.75 million businesses have already switched to the brand's applications, and Berndt said he hopes that thousands more will sign up as a result of this ad campaign and from word-of-mouth. He said that the latter plays a big role, especially among the connected communities of the business world. "When a better mousetrap comes along, it tends to travel a little bit."