At first glance it seems that the search giant is repeating Microsoft's advertising mistake -- the Redmond, Calif. Wash.,* company just blew $100 million on a JWT campaign advertising its Bing search engine. That campaign has so far had disappointing results (although it did gain 1 percent of share, according to to Statcounter.)
Old media ad campaigns for online products tend to be a big waste of money because consumer takeup online is almost entirely generated by word of mouth. So what is Google up to? Check the details, according to Brandweek:
The billboards are along the Massachusetts Turnpike in Boston, the West Side Highway in New York City, the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago and U.S. 101 in San Francisco. These specific locations were selected to reach as many people at once as possible, especially businesspersons.The reporter makes a key error in that last sentence. This has nothing to do with wanting to reach a lot of people (and in New York, most "businesspersons" are commuting on the trains, not the road). If it did, Google would have bought TV. Clearly, Google's tiny buy of a handful of boards is, on its own, a pointless effort ... until you realize that Google is not trying to reach the masses -- it's trying to reach the media. Hence those cities, and not Las Vegas, Dallas and New Orleans.
This is a PR campaign targeting tech journalists, not an advertising campaign. Those journalists will in turn reach the "businesspersons." Which is why it will be so much more effective (for its money) than Microsoft's effort for Bing.
*Ouch! Apologies for the error.