It doesn’t happen often, so when Google bothers to air a television commercial, we pay attention.
An ad for Google’s underdog social sharing service, Google+, aired during the Lions vs. Packers football game on Thanksgiving Day. Does Google+ stand a chance against Facebook? The jury’s still out on that. As to the commercial, here are five things to note:
1) It’s about people, not posts. If one thing is conspicuously absent from this glance at Google’s sharing service, it’s anything that’s being shared. Instead the ad highlights Google+ Circles, a feature that lets users manage groups of people with whom they can share, and Hangout, the service’s group video chat. The focus on people helps Google for two key reasons. First, it leads viewers to ask themselves the easier question — Whom should I share with? — over the harder one — What do I share? Second, it zeroes in on social organization, an area where, mechanically, at least, Google really does do it better than Facebook.
2) It starts with search. If you’re taking folks on a trip, it’s good to kick off from familiar ground. The ad opens not with any feature of Google+, but with a cursor blinking patiently in the almighty search bar on Google’s home page. A mouse pointer appears, moves up the page to the “+You” link and opens the door to Plus with a click. That’s Google leading new users from a service they know to a service they don’t, and leveraging its strength in a mastered space to lend credibility to its efforts in a new one.
3) It appeals to social consistency. “I don’t think people have changed that much in thousands of years,” a middle-aged man says in the first voice-over testimonial while the mouse pointer begins exploring Google+. “And I think they’re still, fundamentally, driven by the same internal needs, the same desires and the same kind of hopes.” Those words subtly raise and dismiss two resistant beliefs about social networking: that tech-enabled sharing is a fad based on new, unnatural behaviors, and that it’s best suited for the young.
4) It’s up close and easygoing. Only once does the commercial show any Google+ screen in its entirety (that’s the Hangout screen). The rest of the time, the camera’s zoomed right up close, panning and moving over elements of the Google+ site at a pace in step with a folksy, laid-back soundtrack. My take-away here: Google has always won with simplicity, and the full face of a social network — even Google’s own — can easily overwhelm.
5) A little claim to magic. Beyond a vague promise to better fulfill the promise of personal connection, the commercial gives no specifics about what kind of value Google+ can deliver (in fact, it gives almost no specifics at all). But listen to the voice-over testimonial when a group of young people chat on Hangout, the Google+ group video feature. “I definitely think that when you’re a child, when you’re younger, it’s just more about showing up and being in a place and then seeing what happens, like the idea of like, in school you just have recess and that’s just a period of time for whatever you want to do, you can do.” Is showing up to a video chat just like showing up to a place? Depends on how much faith you put in technology.