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Google, Sony Tie Up in 'Da Vinci' Promo

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NEW YORK Google on Monday began a marketing promotion with Sony's Columbia Pictures designed to build excitement for next month's release of The Da Vinci Code while introducing users to less popular Google products.

The Da Vinci Code promotion lets fans of the Dan Brown book download a puzzle program to their Google personalized home page. For three-plus weeks, they are given clues to solve daily puzzles, designed by Google's product team, including software engineer and puzzle champion Wei-Hwa Huang. In addition to the personalized home page, the puzzle will involve users in other Google products, such as Google SMS, Google Maps and Google Video.

Fans that choose to receive the puzzle have it appear in an ad unit on their personalized Google home page. A different puzzle will be introduced for 24 days leading up to The Da Vinci Code's release on May 19. Columbia Pictures plans to promote the puzzle through Internet display and search advertising, the film's Web site and a marketing deal with Access Hollywood. It can be downloaded from Google's Web site (www.google.com/davincicode). Those solving all 24 days of puzzles will be eligible for a final round of puzzle challenges that will award the winner a variety of prizes.

Dylan Casey, a Google product manager, said the Internet giant is approached regularly by advertisers who want to use Google products to build brand experiences. Rather than strike deals as pure ad relationships, however, Google is picking opportunities that will build awareness and use of its own products. This way, the relationships can act as a surrogate for the traditional advertising and marketing undertaken by most consumer-focused companies of Google's size.

"It introduces some of our lesser known products to users in an interesting and useful way," he said. "We're hoping that is more effective than running TV commercials about Google SMS or some of our other products. It dovetails better with Google and our ethos than say a direct marketing campaign."

Google's product group, not its ad sales division, runs the program, Casey said.

Dwight Caines, worldwide executive vice president for digital marketing strategy at Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, said The Da Vinci Code is ready-made for a community-based marketing approach, and the Google promo will tap into this. While other partners could have helped Columbia Pictures build the puzzle application, Google brings a wide array of tech expertise, a huge audience and a sterling brand, he said.

"It's mutually beneficial to highlight our respective assets," he said.

Casey said Google would roll out similar deals this year. Last month, it teamed with Nike for Jugo.com, a social networking site that uses Google's Orkut social-networking tech platform. Like The Da Vinci Code puzzle promotion, Jugo.com requires users to set up a Google account, helping Google build its registration base, which is far smaller than that of rivals Yahoo and MSN because Google only began requiring registration for some of its more recent non-search products like Gmail.