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Love of Google Trumps Cash for Will.i.am and Lady Gaga

When You're Google, You Don't Have to Pay Celebrities to Sell Your Product

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Not five months ago, Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga teamed up in one of the best episodes of SNL I've ever seen. Today, these Hollywood icons are taking opposite approaches to using their fame for brand-building in social media.

In one corner, you have last night's "Future of MySpace" event, where new owners Specific Media paraded Mr. Timberlake--their shiniest object--before an Advertising Week crowd in an attempt to breathe life into a site and a brand in its death throes. (Apparently JT spoke and did some hob-nobbing, but didn't perform).

In the other, you have Lady Gaga, one of a growing number of celebrities working with Google, not for sponsorship dollars or for equity, but to associate themselves with powerful new tools to connect with their audience.

In Lady Gaga's case, it was Google's Chrome. Last week, Black Eyed Peas member Will.i.am opened up his Google+ "Hangout" to fans prior to a concert. Google promoted this by placing a link to Will.i.am's Google+ profile on Google.com. Think about that for a minute: Will.i.am gets the sole link on the most-trafficked page on the web. What do you suppose that 's worth to Will.i.am, and to Google?

According to spokesperson for the artist, the deal was the outcome of a phone call between Will.i.am and Google CEO Larry Page himself. Ad Age was also told that no money changed hands, as the endeavor was viewed as "mutually beneficial" the result of which was "massive cross-promotional exposure and engagement for both parties."

This is intriguing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it opens to the door to a slew of questions and opportunities about Google running promotions on its homepage, arguably one of – if not the most - the most coveted and valuable ad medium on the internet, especially given the imminent launch of Google+ for businesses.

What piqued my interest, however, was how the deal could easily have been initiated – and paid for – by either side. Will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas accrued a heavy dose of exposure and premium ad space, while Google saw one of today's hottest stars pimp out the defining product of its shiny new social network. The move is highly reminiscent of the Twitter's early days when celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber, and Oprah were quick to spot the value of the new social vehicle, while Twitter's top dogs didn't seem to mind crucial role these A-Listers played in mainstreaming the service.

But beyond products and cross promotions, there's the Google brand and what that brand stands for. At our recentDigital West Conference, Lady Gaga's Manager, Troy Carter, spoke about the Chrome spot for which the two parties collaborated, and how the project came about when the Google team met with Gaga backstage after a concert to show her the "It Gets Better" campaign. "It touched her," and she "wanted to be associated with the company that 's bold enough to make this sort of statement." As a result, they teamed up for the Chrome Commercial, and like Will, Troy told us, "We didn't get paid for that ." The Google brand is an asset that celebrities want to be associated with.

It all makes what the old MySpace and its new owners Specific Media are trying to do with Justin Timberlake seem very retrograde, or at least very web 1.0. Mr. Timberlake may get some agency execs excited about MySpace again; he might even have some good ideas to contribute, or even a performance or two. But ultimately they brought him on to sell a product. Contrast that with Google (or even Twitter), which creates a product useful to people and celebrities flock to sell it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Teicher is Ad Age 's social media and event content manager. Follow him on Twitter @Aerocles.
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