Santa Tracker Highlights Google Brand, Services

Google May Not Have Lost on Santa Tracker After All

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When the government recently awarded Microsoft the job of visualizing Santa's worldwide Christmas Eve trek, it was billed by many as a coup for Microsoft. An NBC headline read, "Sorry, Google," the article explaining that Microsoft had usurped the Santa-tracking gig from Google, which had performed those duties for the North American Aerospace Defense Command since 2007.

But Google's rival Santa Tracker, a fun, elaborate collection of games and features the company used in part to highlight its brand and services, suggests that Google may have resigned rather than being fired.

NORAD's Santa Tracker
NORAD's Santa Tracker
Google's Santa Tracker
Google's Santa Tracker

"We aren't able to comment on details of our partnership agreements," noted a Google spokesperson when asked last week by Ad Age whether the company chose to end its relationship with NORAD.

Google has had a Santa Tracker in development since 2004. "The first Santa Tracker was a skunkworks project created in 2004 by Brian McClendon, VP of Google Maps and Google Earth," said the spokesperson. Members of the Google Maps team built the 2012 system.

Google's brightly-colored Santa Tracker rivaled the NORAD Santa Tracker with three hidden games featuring Santa's elves, and a tool for sending friends a customizable voicemail from Santa himself via Google Voice. The system cleverly incorporated Google+, allowing people to refer to the voicemail recipient as a Google+ Circle Buddy, among several other options including "Brother From Another Mother ."

Google also offered an extension of its Chrome browser for tracking St. Nick.

While Google's tracker wasn't excessively branded with the Google name or services, NORAD's system and site afforded Microsoft no branding opportunities, another reason Google may have opted to ditch the deal with the U.S. and Canadian government-run aerospace warning organization.

The NORAD Santa Tracker was less-attractive than Google's cartoonish and highly interactive site. NORAD's featured some interactive elements including some basic games such as a picture memory game. Illustrated videos of Santa's visits to Alaska, Hawaii, and other non-U.S. destinations were also included on the site, though the fact that they were hosted by YouTube and featured in a YouTube channel was a reminder of Google's dominance online, with or without a NORAD contract.

The presence of two Santa Trackers also caused confusion for kids and adults. At around 10 PM EST on Christmas Eve, for instance, Google reported that Santa had delivered around 1.7 billion gifts, and noted he was en route to St. Georges, Grenada and was last seen in Holetown, Barbados.

NORAD told Santa monitors the jolly soul had already been to St. Georges and was on his way to Barbados. He'd also unloaded more than twice as many presents by that time according to NORAD: around 4.7 billion.

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