How Online Cartography Suddenly Became a Hot Issue for Propmasters

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The deal: Google teams up with product placement firm Pier 3 Entertainment to promote its maps services.

The result: Placements in high-profile shows have increased exposure for the new products and helped develop a potential moneymaker for the search giant.

LOS ANGELES -- Google wants you to use its tools to navigate the world but first it has to show you how.

That's the marketing challenge the online search giant faced last year when it launched the Google Maps system enabling
An appearance in the plotline of CBS’ drama “NCIS” kicked off the product placement campaign.

users to zoom in and view photographic close-ups of an an address taken from a satellite for free.

Google Earth product

The company launched Google Earth in June, which goes one step further, allowing users to zoom in and fly over 3-D images of buildings and landscapes and tilt and rotate the imagery through a downloadable program.

But in order to generate traffic to the services, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company needed to first generate some buzz around the products.

There was just one problem: Even though the company earned $6 billion in 2005, Google does not buy traditional advertising. Ironic, considering that almost all of its money is made from advertising.

So the company enlisted the help of Pier 3 Entertainment, a product placement shop in Redondo Beach, Calif., to arrange cameo roles in high-profile TV shows to show off its map services.

At the beginning of the fall TV season, Pier 3 approached several shows, including the “CSI” franchise, “Alias,” “The West Wing,” “Smallville” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” to demonstrate the online cartographic systems.

'People want to play with it'

“We needed to educate people on what Google could do for them,” said Thomas Loversky, president of Pier 3 Entertainment, which also reps Bosch, Cold Stone Creamery and Skyy Vodka, among other marketers. “Once people see it [Google Earth], people want to play with it.”

Both Google Maps and Earth landed their first placement in an episode of the CBS drama “NCIS” that aired Oct. 18. In the episode, the lead characters interact with the products on the series’ command center set. The map products simultaneously appear on computer and plasma screens. Google supplied producers with all of the visuals that appeared on the screens prior to the show’s shoot.

“It was a situation where the production company wanted the most contextual map application,” Mr. Loversky said. “Google fit right in.”

Google Earth has since reappeared on “NCIS” in January.

Landing “NCIS” proved a coup for Google because “it’s a show that fits with the intellectual computer user, the person who is using a computer on a regular basis. And likely the person that is going to use Google,” Mr. Loversky said.

'CSI' appearance

Since “NCIS,” Google Maps and Earth have also appeared in “CSI,” another CBS show.

Google does not pay for the placements and does not buy media during the shows. It has yet to set aside a budget to pay for integrations or promotions around placements. CBS did not demand that Google buy ads during “NCIS” or “CSI” as part of the placements.

“The purpose of entertainment marketing for Google is to show people what their brands can do and put it in places that contextually fit,” Mr. Loversky said. “They want their placements to be contextual and relevant and genuine. They don’t want something that’s contrived or blatant.”

Placements can vary from on-set interactions with the Google software to mere brand mentions within the script. Google, as a brand, has become so ubiquitous, mentions in a script are often written in without Pier 3 even knowing they’re happening. In the past year, Google has shown up in some form in shows such as “Arrested Development,” “The Simpsons,” “House,” “Crossing Jordan,” “Law & Order,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Veronica Mars,” “The West Wing” and “Everwood,” among others.

Evaluating the exposure

Google measures the success of its placements by “the quality of the impression,” Mr. Loversky said, and “whether or not the consumer can see Google’s products or knows that the brand is a part of the show.” Pier 3 also works with Nielsen Media Research and Los Angeles-based brand integration technology company Next Medium to examine the exposure and evaluate it.

According to Nielsen and NextMedium, Google Earth and Google Maps have received more than 20 seconds of exposure on the three episodes of “NCIS” and one episode of “CSI” since October, generating over 50 million gross impressions for these products. Impressions are defined by the Nielsen Product Placement Service as program average total households.

Overall from September 2005 through February 2006, Google brands, including Google Search, Froogle, Google Earth, Google Local Maps and G-Mail, received over 191 seconds of exposure, generating over 390 million impressions for the brands.

Of course, increased traffic to Google’s sites is also a good indication of whether audiences saw the placements. Google declined to disclose that number, however.

Naturally, Google hopes that those kinds of stats help turn its maps service into a business.

Maps as advertising medium

The company has already begun experimenting with selling ad space to marketers hoping to appear in various map searches. And HBO paid to use Google Maps to promote the return of “The Sopranos” by creating an interactive map of New Jersey, where the show takes place. The maps went live in February.
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