Ad of the Day: Google Play

The brand continues to celebrate the quaint technology systems of the past, even as it obliterates them

Google has no interest in half-measures. In its advertising, this means fully embracing the digital nature of its products—or going the other way completely by building old-timey, handcrafted props to illustrate how the products work. You see examples of the former approach in spots like "Parisian Love" (for the search engine) and "Dear Sophie" (for the Chrome browser)—ads that are 100 percent digital, stitched together entirely from dynamic computer screen shots. On the flip side, you have ads like the Chrome speed tests (which compared the browser's fleetness with that of real-world speed demons like lightning and flying potatoes, all filmed in 2700 fps slow motion), or more recently, the giant gyroscopic labyrinth cube for Google Maps. Google doesn't dilute these approaches by mixing them. It goes all in, one way or the other.

The introductory video for Google Play, posted below, from Studio G, falls squarely into the latter camp. It begins, funnily enough, with a hand crank—a device that couldn't seem more antiquated and un-Google-like. The crank sets in motion a series of now largely obsolete gadgets that are stand-ins for today's modern ones—a music box, a push-button telephone, paper books (alright, not entirely obsolete, but Google's working on it), a reel-to-reel film projector, a canvas projection screen, and a Rubik's Cube. Objects are pushed this way and that in this little world—representing the virtual movement of sharable media that Google Play facilitates. At the end, the camera pulls back to reveal that everything has taken place inside a suitcase—a metaphor for the virtual multimedia luggage we all carry around and share from device to device.

Producer Yovel Schwartz tells Creativity that Studio G built two suitcases, "one with the functioning guts and one slightly smaller one that we comped the mechanical innards into during post." The one with the guts "did in fact work," Schwartz says. "It required five or six people to puppeteer on set, all of whom were also involved in building it."

Building byzantine real-world contraptions to advertise products whose tiny, futuristic "guts" we never see, or even think about, is Google's way of connecting itself to a tradition of more mechanical human invention—a tradition that's easier to grasp, easier to see. It's also just about offering delightful entertainment, not another boring ad. And this new video is truly delightful, and well on its way to 1 million YouTube views after just a couple of days.

The criticism of these handmade spots is that operating in metaphor obscures the real product, and forces the viewer to parse two sets of information—first, what's going on in the handmade contraption, and then, how the handmade contraption relates to the product you can actually use. This was more of a problem with the Google Maps gyroscopic cube, which truly was an esoteric art piece. In this new spot, the voiceover goes a long way to resolving the issue, speaking in modern-ese and helping to bridge the gap between past and present. But in any case, Google won't mind if you're a bit confused. The point of these spots isn't to spit out product specs. It's to pull you in with a charming experience—and should you be intrigued, Google rightly assumes you're well equipped to find out more on your own.

One other notable thing about this spot is the tablet at the end, which appears simply as a clear glass replica of a tablet. There's no old-timey stand-in—because, of course, tablets are completely new and have no real antecedent. This is the present obliterating the past—and it will continue to happen. Google had better celebrate these antiquated devices while it can. Not long from now, people will no longer recognize them at all.

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