Google Launches In-House Agency

What Doesn't It Do? The Search Giant Taps Ogilvy Big to Promote Its Wares

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Google has a new marketer it's looking to help using its array of creative products and ad-targeting tools: itself.
Andy Berndt has been tapped to lead Google's new in-house agency.
Andy Berndt has been tapped to lead Google's new in-house agency. Credit: Mark Schafer

The search giant is launching an in-house agency to handle all of its own advertising needs and, as first reported on, has lured Andy Berndt away from his post as co-president of Ogilvy & Mather, New York, to lead it.

The hire, along with Google's first major consumer-public-relations outreach, represents a new focus on consumer marketing and PR and a definite shift in tack for a company that has largely shunned any sort of organized self-promotion. It's also perhaps an admission that massive word-of-mouth endorsement around a hit in one category -- here, search -- and a brand that has entered the cultural lexicon doesn't automatically translate to other products.

Low priority
Google admits its own consumer marketing hasn't been a high priority in its brief 10-year history.

"We haven't spent a lot of time internally thinking about marketing our own products and services," Tim Armstrong, Google's president-advertising and commerce, North America, told reporters at an industry press day last week. He also said one of Mr. Berndt's roles would be to use Google's own products and services to create marketing executions that "other agencies can look at as examples."

Google, it seemed, was content to let others do its marketing, as with a Pontiac TV ad that directed viewers to search for the automaker on Google and a recent deal with the movie "Bourne Ultimatum" that used Google products in a promotion that aired ads in cinemas, among other channels.

And it has flirted with the concept of more-traditional advertising: Talks in November 2005 with several large general-advertising agencies went nowhere, although earlier that year Google had hired Crispin Porter & Bogusky to craft radio spots and print ads for its Google Local product. It has worked with agencies on a project basis for years, both in the U.S. and abroad, but has never been proactive in marketing its various products -- unusual for a company that bases 99% of its revenue on advertising.

Bragging rights
"Google was one of those companies like JetBlue and Starbucks who were very busy bragging about the fact they haven't done advertising," said Greg Stuart, former head of the Interactive Advertising Bureau and co-author of "What Sticks: Why Most Advertising Fails and How to Guarantee Yours Succeeds." "Everybody does marketing whether they hire someone to do it or not. How you position a business, articulate a business, serve your customers, is all a part of the business."

So why is Google now conceding it needs to do some marketing? It's got more products now than ever -- including a suite of applications bolstered last week with the introduction of presentation software, photo-sharing services, a social-networking site and mobile offerings such as the recently acquired Grand Central.
Google ad spending
1. Includes $143.5 million for internet-service provider services.
Source: TNS Media Intelligence
And that's not to mention the 15 or so products it's testing in its Google Labs. Despite all of that, search arguably, along with maps and mail, is Google's bona fide consumer hit.

"In the next three to five years, they will need a new, big, major, profitable market," said Mike Vorhaus, managing director of Frank N. Magid Associates.

Hoping to introduce the company's offerings to a broader audience, on Oct. 3, the New York PR team will host an event to show the likes of Real Simple and "Today" how consumers can create photo albums with Picasa. And it recently launched Google Sky in a "Good Morning America" segment.

'Like everybody else'
"In some respects Google has been a one-trick pony with search, but lightning doesn't strike twice often; very few people win the lotto twice," Mr. Stuart said. "When you don't hit lotto, you need to grind it out and build a business like everybody else."

One new product Google insists it is not launching: an agency. The agency world was atwitter last week with the news of Mr. Berndt's hire, and several industry execs wondered privately whether this was Google's play to get into the agency business. Mr. Berndt, who will report to David Lawee, VP-marketing, has a unique mix of creative and account-management experience, making him an ideal candidate for such a venture.

"Google is not getting into the agency business," Mr. Armstrong said, citing all the personnel requirements of a marketing services shop. "It would be mathematically impossible for us to get into that."
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