Google Marketing Team Admits Keyword Blocking of ‘Coronavirus’ Was Too Broad

Advertising and search giant pledges to spend $100 million in marketing dollars with news organizations

Google says it's "well" on the way to reaching its goal of spending $100 million in marketing with news organizations by the end of this year. Google
Headshot of Sara Jerde

Google’s marketing team conceded today that it had been “too conservative” in including “coronavirus” on its list of blocked terms earlier this year as the Covid-19 pandemic spread. The $1 trillion company pledged to spend $100 million in advertising to support news organizations this year.

The advertising and search giant is well on its way to meeting that pledge, originally made in March, according to a blog post from Lorraine Twohill, svp of global marketing at Google.

It’s not clear exactly how much has already been spent with publishers, though Twohill stated the marketing team is making a concerted effort to specifically support Black- and Latino-owned publications, including working with the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Association of Hispanic Publications.

“This year more than any other year, it’s brought home to me as a leader within Google marketing and our teams how important quality journalism is, how important news is at the local level,” Joshua Spanier, vp of marketing at Google, told Adweek. “We as marketers have a responsibility to support those organizations who are doing such good work with our marketing dollars.”

In light of these announcements, Adweek caught up with Spanier to discuss Google’s marketing strategy, and the missteps made during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

It’s been such a remarkable year. What’s been your approach in marketing and messaging?
Joshua Spanier: Like every brand out in the world, we’ve had to really think deeply and thoughtfully about where we deploy the resources we have given the way Covid spread around the world at different rates initially, and the different countries that are impacted in our own products and what’s relevant to our customers and our users around the world.

We’ve had to do a lot of shifting, a lot of adjusting. Being more relevant to our customers is helpful. Having things that are more engaging and relevant is important, but we’ve really focused on areas where we can actually, truly measure and understand the impact of what we’re doing.

Obviously, every dollar counts and you have to be responsible as a marketing organization all the time, especially this year.

You’ve seen publishers and legacy news outlets putting forth information readers need in real time. Did seeing that happen make your team think differently about where you wanted to make those investments?
Yes, it did. Any marketing organization has competing pressures. And primarily, marketing is about driving your return on investment for marketing dollars to drive the business engagement and relationship with customers. Marketers going too far away from that are gonna get in trouble.

But what it really enabled us to do is to recognize the incredible importance of the news business just as Covid was peaking around the world. The news became just about Covid, and everyone was turning to the news and it was a reaffirmation of the centrality of news. 

Everyone was consuming news across every screen, every touch point, at massive scale. That was a reminder of the importance of news. As marketers, we could see the engagement and depth level that people were spending, reading, understanding, consuming and following the news of the day about Covid.

That caused us, as a good marketing organization, to really understand: What are our customers doing? What are they leaning into? How do we support that? How are we relevant? How do we show up in the right way? And how do we support that ecosystem, which is creating this engagement?

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.