No, the Super Bowl spot, "Parisian Love," was
created in-house by the "Google 5," a handful of students recruited
from ad and design schools. The 5 program is an experiment launched
last year by the Google Creative Lab and its executive creative
director, Robert Wong. The company sent a call out to 12 schools
searching for interesting talent who would work inside the Creative
Lab for a year and then be sent out unto the industry. So, with the
Google 5, the company gets new creative blood and the industry gets
young talent that is schooled in Google, and, by extension, the
post-digital/new advertising way -- tech-forward, open-source,
collaborative, and smart.
Mr. Wong says the 5 initiative was motivated by two things:
"getting fresh, awesome talent in the Creative Lab," and "fueling
the ecosystem of the industry."
"It feels like every agency I talk to wants more digital
expertise," said Mr. Wong. "The thinking was that, 'Hey we have
great talent that can come in and play with all the tools here and
then agencies will get people that feel confident about all the
tools at their disposal.' And of course it works for us because
that way they know our tools and we can participate in the whole
Mr. Wong and the Lab team received around 400 applications for
the five spots in the program. The original plan was to recruit a
designer, an art director, a writer, a filmmaker and a programmer,
but after vetting the candidates in a process Mr. Wong likens to
"casting a reality show," the team selected two writers, Tristan
Smith and J. Smith; two designers, Anthony Cafaro and Jonathan
Jarvis; and a programmer, Michael Chang.
The team stood out for being talented and "multidextrous" and,
in some cases, for their self-initiated creations: Mr. Jarvis wrote
and directed an animated web film called "The Crisis of Credit
Visualized" that explained the Wall Street meltdown in a simple,
graphically compelling way and that's been viewed over a million
times online; Mr. Smith, while nominally a writer, impressed with a
series of 3-D photographs he created as a side project. But the
whole team demonstrated the key characteristic of, er,
"Googliness," which Mr. Wong describes as an amalgam of "ambition,
humility, altruism, entrepreneurialism and sense of scale -- big
thinkers who feel like they can really impact a lot of people."
In June 2009, the 5 arrived at Google and were immersed
immediately in every project that the Lab had cooking and in the
aggressively open, collaborative Google working style.
"It wasn't like, 'OK, here's your little project and we'll work
on the important things,'" said Mr. Jarvis. "They were like, 'We
need minds on this problem, you guys come and work on it.' So we
were working on the same projects as the creative leads and working
right alongside them; it was up to us to sink or swim, and to
contribute as much as we could."
Within the group and in the larger Lab environment, "there's
very little screen privacy," Mr. Cafaro said. "There was always
someone over your shoulder saying, 'Ooh, what if we tried this?'"
Fresh out of school, the 5 noted that this kind of collaborative
environment was a significant change from their experiences to
date. "I think ad school trained you to be very competitive;
there's this kind of killer instinct they try and create in you,"
said Tristan Smith. "You're always pitching your work against
teams. I sort of had to reprogram myself here."
The 5 ended up working on a wide range of projects, from
launching the Nexus phone -- contributing to all facets of the
product including packaging, pre-roll ads on Hulu and the boot-up
animation on the phone -- to the Google Christmas card ("everything
here scales!" said Tristan Smith).
And, of course, search.
How it all began
What eventually became "Parisian Love" and a Super Bowl hit started
out as a key Google brief, to "remind people what they love about
Google search," but also to showcase some engine particulars they
might not know about. "There were all these features that the
engineers showed me that I think no one really knew about, like
being able to type your flight number right into the search bar
without going to an airline's site," said Mr. Wong. "So it was
about showing people how they could search in other ways and how
empowering that could be." Mr. Wong said several different ideas
were floated until something caught -- the idea that it wasn't just
one search and one answer, but a lifetime of searches. The 5 team
ran with the idea of a search as representative of a moment in a
life, inspired by Mr. Wong's maxim that "the best results don't
show up in a search engine, they show up in your life."
They worked to keep the idea pared down to keep the resulting
spot "like theater of the mind," and presented it to the
search-marketing team. Mr. Wong said, "Everyone loved it and wanted
to share it." The spot appeared online in late 2009. It was an
engineer who originally suggested putting the ad on the Super Bowl.
"For Google, it's a crazy idea," Mr. Wong said. "At the end of the
day, the founders loved the spot and they were excited by the idea
of more people getting to see it. It was a one off, it was random.
But it was surprising and that's what made it so cool."
The tenure of the original 5 came to an end this June, at which
time the Lab ended up hiring Tristan Smith. Messrs. Cafaro and
Jarvis. J. Smith got a job at Wieden & Kennedy,
Portland and Mr. Chang is a free-agent programmer who recently
created the much-discussed "Google Doodle" that augured the
September launch of Google Instant. He is currently working on
projects for Barnes & Noble.
Up next: another group of "talented and nice" polymaths that
includes Grant Gold, a designer out of School of Visual Arts; Chris
Trumbull and Natalie Hammel, writers from VCU; George Michael
Brower, a technologist from UCLA Design Media Arts; and Chris
Lauritzen, a designer/"wild card" from Art Center College of
Design's Media Design program.
Mr. Wong says the fresh 5 have been thrown into a range of
projects covering search, Google TV, Chrome and other undisclosed
"The Lab is very flat and open," said Mr. Lauritzen, "which
gives it a kind of chaos that can feel a little overwhelming at
times. It's also what makes it such a cool place to be, especially
for someone learning how the creative industry works. There is a
lot of amazing stuff going on, and it's all accessible." Already,
Mr. Brower has contributed to one of the creative highlights of the
year, interactive video "The Wilderness Downtown," a collaboration
between director Chris Milk and Google's Aaron Koblin, The Lab,
B-Reel, Radical Media and
designer/developer Mr. Doob.
The Arcade Fire coup and the Super Bowl spot are part of a
growing body of work out of the Lab created in collaboration with
an array of partners, agency and otherwise. The Lab built on the
success of "Parisian Love" with more Search Stories, working with
Pixar to create a "Toy Story 3"-themed spot and launching a web
tool allowing the public to create their own search story.
Quite a track record
Much of the Lab's recent work has centered on the Chrome browser.
In May, the group worked with BBH, New York, on "Speed Tests," which pitted
the browser against the likes of sound waves and a potato-gun-fired
potato in a series of real-time, in-camera demonstrations.
It's an admirable track record for a creative entity just 3
years old. Former Ogilvy co-President Andy Berndt was recruited in
September 2007 to build the new unit; Mr. Wong, an ex-Arnold exec
creative director and VP-creative at Starbucks, joined in 2008. But
this is Google, after all, so when Mr. Wong tells you the ultimate
goal for the Lab is to "win the Nobel Peace Prize," both of you can
keep a straight face.
The Lab is now a 50-person unit, working closely with Google
marketing and with a growing roster of agencies including BBH, Cutwater and Johannes Leonardo among others.
Mr. Wong offers a long and a short version of the Lab's mandate.
"The Google Creative Lab is a small team that strives to rethink
marketing across every kind of media, currently existing or not --
with Google as its sole client. Our mission is to 'remind the world
what it is that they love about Google.' Our job is to manage and
steward the brand, find new ways to communicate the company's
innovations, intentions and ideals, and do work of which we can all
be proud. We want people ambitious and crazy enough to think we can
actually change the world." The short version: "Do epic shit."
The part about reminding people why they love Google, though,
can be considered one of today's more interesting brand challenges:
to take a company that was built on and whose name represents one
thing -- search -- and craft a brand persona as the company expands
in size and scope. And occasionally scares people. "It's human
nature to root for the underdog," said Mr. Wong. "When you become
successful, it's about, how do you exceed people's
The Lab, said Mr. Wong, wants to take the processes and
philosophies that made Google's engineers successful -- intense
focus on the consumer and user experience, flat operating
structure, focus on prototyping and on an iterative process, scale
and tech innovation -- and apply them to the marketing process. If
Mr. Wong could push further, industry-wide, he said it would be
toward "more listening, less talking; more feeling, less thinking,
more doing, less promising, more inventing, less polishing."