The Real Reason Behind Google’s Zeitgeist: Year In Review

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March 18, 2015 at 5:35 pm

One chilly day in June 2013, a few moments after the cinema lights came back on and the credits to “The Internship” started running up the screen, I turned to my sister and said “Man, Google is awesome!”

Like most people, I had been a user of Google since the start of my searching days – sure I dabbled in Bing and Yahoo whenever a computer’s default took me there, but I cannot deny that Google is my search-engine of choice and I have responded to many-a-question with “just Google it”.

Yet, it wasn’t until I watched “The Internship” that I actually became quite actively interested in Google as a company and a brand. Up until this point, Google had simply been the awesome website that held the solutions to all of my problems. But on this particular day in June 2013, I decided to do what I’m sure most people have done accidentally at least once in their lives: I Googled “Google”.

And that’s when I found Google: A Year in Review.

If you aren’t sure what this is, take a moment to watch one or two – it will be worth it, trust me. Basically, A Year in Review is an annual video montage produced by Google intending to capture the zeitgeist of the past year according to Google searches.

Google Zeitgeist/A Year In Review: 2012

When I first watched these videos, I thought to myself “Wow that is some incredible marketing.” I mean, the inspirational music? The familiar images of tragedy and triumph? Throw in Barack Obama’s smooth, baritone diction and you’ve got yourself the crème de la crème of hyper-sentimental montages guaranteed to make your mothers cry and your fathers forward that chain email. Basically, I watched these videos and thought I recognised a marketing recipe akin to the ‘Dove’s Real Beauty’ school of art: emotional viral marketing.

Indeed, it would be easy to say that Google’s A Year in Review videos are simply product placement masquerading as sappy homages to another awesome year. Each year’s video features Google’s services – from the search bar to Google Plus and Gmail. And yes, it would be easy to say that these videos are just an opportunistic viral marketing strategy capitalising on the reflective ethos that a new year inevitably brings. The typical montages that run to the tune of respectfully upbeat music rollercoaster from heartbreaking to hopeful to inspirational: all the shiver-inducing ingredients that scream viral marketing. But Google seems to be seeking something much more than just virality.

Viral videos want your attention. Google knows it already has your attention. Its colours are immediately recognisable and its services are used profusely on a daily basis. Google gets that its brand name has transcended into verb-ship: the word has a past-tense for goodness sake. Google gets that it is a big deal and it doesn’t need your attention.

So what does Google want?

Douglas Holt talks about how these things called “Iconic Brands” buttress consumer identity: people use brands like Nike and Apple to say something about who they are, therefore these brands are iconic. Up until this point, I thought for sure that this was the kind of complex marketing genius that would “end the game”, so to speak.

But Google isn’t interested in that. Google is doing something even more genius. Because rather than simply buttress consumer identity, Google is trying to buttress the collective human identity. And that is so much more powerful.

Google Zeitgeist/A Year In Review: 2014

Google doesn’t want to be the brand that helps us understand ourselves as individuals or discover our identity – rather Google wants to pit itself as the entire human experience. In its A Year in Review videos, Google is showing us that it has been inextricable part of our lives in the past year: a constant, dominant force in our experiences with technology and most importantly, the very portal through which we have experienced the world together. Google is how we see these experiences, Google is how we understand these experiences. Google is the shared human experience.

The most interesting part about this is that for any other brand, claiming to have this kind of dominance in the experience of mankind would definitely be problematic. In order for information to be balanced, we require more than a single lens through which to look. It’s why we have open justice and it’s why we allow opposition leaders to speak and maintain a democratic society. Yet, since Google is the service that helps us find these different lenses, perhaps it’s not quite a problem for Google to claim such dominance.

Well the fact of the matter is, as far as searching goes, Google has become the most dominant player. Sure, you Bing-ers and Yahoo-ligans may defiantly object – but Google is indisputably the industry leader in web search. The market share discrepancy speaks for itself . Cleverly, Google has used its monopoly dominance in internet search to propel itself into other realms of the web experience. The company has long transcended the ‘search-engine’ sphere and its marketing is a brilliant reflection of this.

google street view carStreet view car – Image credit: Charlotte90T

Yes, Google’s identifier is still predominantly a search engine – but it is also a social media platform (Google +), a video-hosting microcosm (YouTube), a smartphone operating system (Android), a navigational system (Google Maps), a hard-drive (Google Drive), a multi-user word-processor (Google Docs), a computer (Chromebook), a browser (Chrome), an email service (Gmail), and even a lens through which you can literally view the world (Google Glass). Google has extended its services into virtually every Internet-related service and product, but its goal has always stayed fundamentally aligned: “search on”. That is the one thing Google has stayed true to despite its incredible growth: its services are there to help you discover each other, to communicate with one another, to help the world see the world.

That’s exactly what Google’s yearly zeitgeist is all about. It’s about reminding the world that every day, we discover each other’s stories, victories, hardships and cultures through Google’s ecosystem of services. At the end of each A Year in Review video, we are invited to feel a sense of togetherness – a general feeling of “yes, that was a year that we lived, and even though we are thousands of miles away from each other, we lived it together.” And without us even consciously realising it, Google is there, whispering to us all: “Yes, but we were the facilitators of that togetherness”. Google’s branding has graduated from that of “we are the best search engine” to “we are the company through which you experience the world”. And each year they make a video montage saying “And don’t you forget it.”

 

Header image by Nan Palmero