Here’s How Google Harnessed the Cultural Zeitgeist



Google worked out how they could use an event everyone would be watching to their advantage. Here’s how you can too.


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In an age of viral videos, online cultural trends, and memes that seem to take over the world, it’s no wonder major global brands are looking to hop on board with whatever is uniting the population in order to maximize their yield of potential consumers and advertise their products.

Basing a marketing campaign around the zeitgeist – or cultural phenomenon – of the times, is a sure-fire way of making sure your campaign hits – and is discussed by – a plethora of people. Social media, all of the existing platforms, is used by 3.2 billion people today. Its reach is unchallenged by any other medium.

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Addressing the crowd at #SMWNYC 2019, Raashi Rosenberger, Brand Marketing, Consumer Apps at Google, discussed how they found a cultural zeitgeist to craft to their wishes and created a marketing campaign that subsequently became one of their most successful ever — boosting their mention and impression rates by 24 and 71 percent respectively.

Here’s what we took away from Raashi’s masterclass.

Find Something That Unites Everyone

‘We live in a fragmented world,’ said Raashi. ‘It’s hard to find something that unites a lot of people.’

But Google did.

Avengers: Endgame, upon its theatrical release worldwide last week, broke almost every box office record imaginable and grossed $1.2 billion in its first weekend. Everyone loves movies, right?

‘We wanted to make a unifying experience for a load of people, not just a small fragment. So we picked the Oscars’.

Google, per Rosenberger, was late to the game with Google Assistant and Google Home. Siri’s been around for years, and Alexa, Amazon’s answer, has been rapidly gaining traction in recent years. They had to think of something that their consumers would simply have to see – and something that would reach a whole wealth of potential consumers that wouldn’t normally be users of either home assistants or Google products.

The Oscars were that. The people that were watching would, even if they were watching passively, have Google’s clips playing on their screen repeatedly during the night. Those who weren’t watching – they’d be interacting somehow with content online.

So they did it – created a campaign. The idea was genius – short ads which depicted a scene from a classic film – but where a character’s request, or dilemma, was heeded or made better with the use of Google Assistant. Take Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’, for example. In Google’s re-done version, no one needs to stay at the motel – as Google Assistant shows them the motel’s rating and asks them if they’d like a room.

Genius, right?

And That Has Legs on a Social Platform

Google’s campaign exploded on social media. They used influencers, Instagram story ads and Twitter promotions to reach as many people as possible – even those who didn’t care for the Oscars – because chances are, they’d care about the film that they were being targeted with.

The crux of it was that it was entertaining – and people were watching it for that, rather than the fact that it was advertising a Google product. But most of all, it was reproducible. The name of the campaign, Google’s starting block, was #heygoogle – simple, relevant and perfect for social media. Google focused on making their collaboration with GIPHY one of the most integral parts of the entire campaign. Social media users could recreate GIFS and make their own Google Home moments, showcasing how their day-to-day lives would be improved by the use of Google. Even those who only cared for the ads due to the cinematic references could drive Google’s reach and knowledge of the campaign by the nonchalant use of the hashtag.

Keep The Momentum

One of the most important aspects of the talk divulged on the timings of advertising campaigns, illustrated through a graphic depicting when Google rolled out their adverts on different social platforms.

‘The momentum around an event starts in advance and carries on the week after.’

If something’s based around a cultural zeitgeist, especially one that’s in the diary – and the start and end can be pinpointed – it’s critical to note that the beginning and end of the event should not be the beginning and end of the campaign. Building anticipation and sustaining a conversation, arguably, are more important than the launch itself. Google’s YouTube, Twitter and Instagram ads all rolled out up to two days before the event and carried on for days after.

‘Creative ideas stick and trigger conversation,’ says Raashi. Simple, isn’t it?

Establish An Emotional Connection With Everyday People

Not everyone has as much money as Google does. The price of some of their strategies is beyond the imaginable range of many start-ups, non-profits or small businesses. But the ideas work in the same way. The idea is key.

Google’s campaign was so successful because it was personal. It tugged on the nostalgia involved with a classic film that many viewers probably found joy in seeing referenced again. And it was funny. People liked it because it made them laugh, and subsequently remembered it.

71% of Google’s mentions over the Oscars period were by new users, and that tells a story in itself.

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