To the joy and excitement of children everywhere, Google began developing a Santa Tracker in 2004. For anyone who hasn’t had to pause Christmas Eve festivities to virtually stalk Santa Claus, Santa Tracker allows kids (and adults) to look up what part of the world St. Nick is visiting at that precise moment.
In 2007, the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD (yeah, we’re not sure how that acronym works, either), partnered with Google to make Santa Tracker the government-official means of following the man in red on his Christmas Eve quest. So when NORAD announced that they would partner with Microsoft this year instead, it was assumed that Google would would take a major marketing hit.
In actuality, the break from NORAD seems to have given Google the freedom to use its Santa Tracker as a marketing tool for its many other services. Not only could families track Santa this year, but they could interact with colorful and elaborate games and features, which the Microsoft/NORAD tracker lacked. Three different games starred Santa’s elves, and there was even a Google Voice-powered tool that allowed users to send friends and family customizable voicemails from Santa himself. The system also incorporated Google+ by allowing users to refer to the voicemail recipient as a Google+ Circle Buddy. Google even offered an extension of its Chrome browser for tracking Mr. Holly Jolly.
Meanwhile, Microsoft was allowed no branding opportunities through its NORAD Santa-tracking system, which has lead to speculation as to whether Google opted to sever its ties with NORAD voluntarily, rather than being let go as many originally assumed. When asked by AdAge about the split, a Google spokesperson said, “We aren’t able to comment on details of our partnership agreements.” Whether a strategic marketing move or a lemons-into-lemonade situation, the outcome was the same: a PR win for Google.
The only downside? Confusion for the kiddos. Because there are now two Santa Trackers (but presumably only one Santa), discrepancies between the two reports were bound to be noticed. For instance, at around 10 PM EST on Christmas Eve, Google reported that Santa was on his way to St. Georges, Grenada, while NORAD said he had already been to St. Georges and was on his way to Barbados. So healthy business competition and clever marketing ploys aside, we recommend sticking to one Santa Tracker or the other, unless you can come up with an elaborate, on-the-spot-story about Rudolph’s nose interfering with radar readings or something…