Internet on Your TV

If you watched the Super Bowl last month, you might have noticed Google’s ad. Maybe you noticed because it was a well-made commercial about a romance. Maybe because it was basically a screen capture with music and cost a fraction of what the other ads did to produce. Or maybe you noticed the really interesting thing about it: It wasn’t actually a new ad, it was just the first time you saw it on television. It had been online for a while in a gallery on YouTube, along with a half dozen other ads in the series. Google picked that one to be on the game because it knew it was the online viewers’ favorite.  

This puts the roles of the Internet and television in importantly different camps. Television is the theater, it’s the unidirectional stage where you’re shown and told things. The Internet, however, is where decisions are made. Interestingly, an increasing number of those decisions involve putting Web content in other media. Web stars like youtube.com/fred are getting TV shows after proving their idea works online. A blog-to-book deal was turned into the blog-to-movie deal (Julie and Julia) and one of my favorite Twitter feeds, twitter.com/shitmydadsays, is getting its own TV show. 

A lot of this is due to the Internet having more content than anywhere else. So, if you’re looking for inspiration for a new movie or TV show or book, then it’s the logical place to start. We know this. But Google didn’t use the Internet for inspiration.

In contrast to Doritos, where the Internet was used to generate ads for the Super Bowl as a social PR stunt, Google was just conducting pragmatic research. So pragmatic, in fact, that I bet it didn’t even really think about it as some big, revolutionary strategy. Its natural thought process was likely this: If it was going to spend a ton of money on media, it should conduct some focus groups. And lucky for Google, it owns YouTube, the biggest focus group in the world. So it put all its ad ideas online and found that the one about going to Paris was the one people liked best, and then spent its millions. Totally logical if you’re a brand made up of Internet engineers who happen to approach everything like a math problem.

But what if you’re not a bunch of nerds?

In sharp contrast, we have a number of other brands (rhymes with hudweiser) that waste millions and millions on production and paid user testing. They do this to create a bunch of ads, test them with small groups, and never show them to the public. They choose one and burn the rest. They lose all the value that all the other ads might have had. And they rely on focus groups to tell them what the public at large wants. Yet we’ve all seen the final results and know that the focus groups can be unreliable. Yet this continues, when the Internet is right there, ready and willing to do it for free.

It’s also interesting to me that the initial supposition with Google was inverted: It didn’t start out with the mandate of making a Super Bowl spot. It was experimenting, and when it found something that worked, it amplified it. To me, all of this, combined, is what’s interesting: a nimble, iterative marketing mind-set that operates opportunistically yet methodically. Nimble, yet disciplined.

The Internet works best when you iterate and get feedback, then change some things and iterate again. The natural state of any Web site, community or application is that it’s alive and there are constant changes. Some brand campaigns and sites exist in this state of change, but very few traditional campaigns do. Most of the time the ads are all finished before they go on-air, and if you pull an ad and replace it, or have to make changes, then it’s a big deal. Online though, we expect that once we launch something and people are interacting with it, we’ll discover through their behavior that we see some new opportunity to improve our ideas — and we nearly always have the chance to do something about it.