Eli Schwartz

In this year’s Super Bowl like all the past years, Google ran a commercial. In prior years, Google highlighted search, but this year they decided to put the focus on the Google Assistant.  Based on immediate Twitter responses as well as recaps about the ads that ran this year, Google definitely hit the mark by causing an emotional response.

Yet underneath the creativity and emotion, I think there are some important takeaways from the choice of what Google chose to highlight this year.

  1. Aside from the very first screen, there were no website listings at all. For a company that is best known as the world’s most popular search engine driving users to indexed websites, I found it to be very enlightening to see that Google focused on queries that specifically did not require any website other than Google.

    Many in the search industry forecast a future where Google owns the entire web ecosystem and there is no need for other websites. In my opinion, this will never be the case as I don’t think its possible for any website – even Google – to be the central repository of all knowledge. If this were remotely possible, we could just walk around with Wikipedia in our pockets and call it a day. That aside, Google has not been a runaway success at every vertical they have entered.

    They have tried and failed to disrupt mortgages, car buying and home services. They have made serious attempts to unseat TripAdvisor and Yelp with Google reviews, but review content on Google is still very thin and unreliable. I view Google’s effort to reposition themselves as much more than search in this commercial as a valiant attempt, but still very aspirational.

  2. The query where the user asks for “the little town off the coast of Juneau” called attention to one of my favorite Google features. Unlike search engines of old, you don’t need to actually use a keyword to bring up results related to your query. You can find results for the movie Legally Blonde with the query “Blonde lawyer movie” and even “Brunette lawyer movie” works! I have used Google to find the name of insects by describing the features. In my opinion, it is this one feature that really shows how much Google has progressed as a result of the AI built into the query parsing of search.
  3. The ad showcased their Assistant product as aimed at elderly gentleman, not the typical picture of an early adopter of voice search and assistants. In truth, assistants add far more value to the lives of people who have not grown up on search where voice search is simply a replacement to typing a query. I am a big of the Google Assistant and I think it can add a lot of value to people who are not early adopters or classic technology users.
  4. The instructions to the voice assistant were all in natural language, the way a person might speak to an actual human assistant. None of the queries began with the wake words of “ok Google” or “hey Google”. Obviously, for all of these queries to register, the user would have to wake their device somehow, but the exclusion of this feature makes the assistant even more personal. This also aligned with the ads tagline of  “A little help with the little things.” The exclusion of the wake word was even more interesting when contrasted with Amazon’s Alexa ad that was all about the need to begin a request with “Alexa.”
  5. For any of the functionality in this ad to work, Google would have needed access to an incredible amount of personal information. First, Google would have to know who Loretta was, which is something that needs to be saved into Google’s Assistant settings. Next, Google, would have needed access to location data in all photos in order to know where the photo was taken. On that note, Google would have of course needed all the photos to be stored in their cloud. Finally, Google would have needed to somehow know that “Casablanca” was their favorite movie which would have needed to be favorited on YouTube. 

Super Bowl ads are some of the most expensive forms of marketing and of all the things that Google could have showcased, it is very telling that this message was chosen for this format. I think anyone who’s career is somehow tied to Google would be wise to see the message in what Google is trying to say about the year ahead.