Chrome Gets Some Polish

A short film called You and Your Browser sounds about as promising as You and Your Bronchial Tract. But it is, in fact, a delightful little cartoon, one of 11 brief films created by illustrators, animators and production companies to promote Chrome, the open-source Web browser from Google.

“Browser” itself is a funny word — maybe that’s why Bowzer from Sha Na Na was popular. From any angle, it’s a dull thing to advertise. Certainly, it’s a paradox for Google to indulge in this kind of buzz building. Brand building through video storytelling is kind of retro, especially compared to the clinical world of online search. Google is a kick-ass company for sure, but the economies of search might just kick traditional ad agencies to the curb, along with their old-timey methods of engagement.

Ad people might snicker a bit, then, and think the company should stick to its core competency-world-changing technology-rather than release video ads with taglines like, “Google Chrome: A new way to get online.” As ad phrases go, it’s simple and not bad, except that it’s not exactly true: Chrome was introduced last September, which makes it practically a Methuselah in Web years.

In the eight months since then, Chrome has won less than 2 percent of the browser market, behind the behemoth, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which has over 60 percent, as well as Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari. (Chrome is not yet available for Macs, so I couldn’t try it out myself.)

But really, despite its hyper-futurisitic godliness, why shouldn’t Google use good ol’ advertising to build awareness? And commissioning various filmmakers to explain, metaphorically, what the browser does, and posting the stuff on YouTube (which Google owns), is the most neutral, viral way to do it. It’s better than an inevitably awkward and inauthentic product placement on The Celebrity Apprentice. (Joan Rivers to Annie Duke: “Hold on a minute while I access valuable information via my Chrome Web browser, bitch!”)

There’s plenty of irony to go around, however, as one commenter complained that Chrome would only play her YouTube videos for a few seconds before crashing.

But those who seek out the Chrome Shorts channel are rewarded. The aforementioned You and Your Browser video, by Christoph Niemann, who’s done many New Yorker covers, is the cleverest. Along with his charming line drawings (a cat drops a dead bird at the feet of its owner, who responds, “Bad browser!”), Niemann makes jokes about “high” and “low” browsers and schnauzers and trousers. Who knew browser wordplay could be so much fun?

Granted, the idea of commissioning animated films is not new — and these are not avant-garde. Many advertisers have done it in some form, including Toyota’s Yaris a few years back.

The Google film Chromance, by Superfad, reminded me of some of the Yaris films with its Japanese aesthetic. It features a semi-alien white blob pondering the chicken-or-egg question. He then goes on a roller-coaster ride (a search engine) that offers all kinds of dream imagery, from floating teeth to the old West to a cow jumping over the moon, and what looked to me like a wall for Humpty-Dumpty. By the end, he gets his answer — he is the (smashed) eggman.

The metaphor-based film I liked best was Door, by HunterGatherer. It shows stick figures who open a door (a portal) and come back with stuff — a motorbike, a shopping bag, a woman with wooden hair. The sound design is great — the characters talk through typing and computer sounds.

Caged Rage 3: Binary Budokan, by Lifelong Friendship Society, is the funniest title, and the dumbest video, although it has its moments. A sad-sack guy is drowning in work, with files piled sky-high and Post-it Notes blanketing the walls around his desk. He uses a computer right out of 1995, last seen in Office Space (and boy does he have a case of the Mondays). But with the help of Chrome, he turns into a regular desk ninja. By the end, all the work is done, his fingers are smoking, and some weird cat appears.