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Fans, friends, and the sad Super Bowl ad

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Last Sunday, I watched the New Orleans Saints win the Super Bowl. It was a terrific game – well deserved for a team and a city that have experienced so much grief. Of course, part of the national attention was reserved for the super bowl TV ads. And of course, this year – just like in years past – ads were nothing more than okay. Nothing to get excited about.

Except for one ad. A Google ad. No, it was not about a new Android phone or Google Wave or anything like that. It was about the good old Google search engine. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first search engine ad from Google, ever.

The ad (available here) was nice. It was well made and had a nice tone. But it was sad, terribly sad, if only because it… existed. I mean, here was Google – one of the most innovative companies of all times, with the highest trafficked website on the planet, the leading search engine, and one of the most recognizable brands the world over-using a weakening medium to promote its online search. What was that if not sad?

The ad, I thought, had to be a defensive move. But is Google concerned that Microsoft or Yahoo! will come out with something super exciting? Is it about a new search startup with radically different technology? Is it WolframAlpha?

I don’t think so. I think that the Google Super Bowl ad is about Facebook and other social networks. It’s about stories like this that show how Facebook is gaining in terms of traffic and usage. It’s about the reality that more and more people rely on their social networks to answer real-life problems.

When you think about it makes complete sense. While search engines do a terrific job indexing content and matching it against user queries, the process lacks social context. Put it another way, the content is created and indexed first. Then our queries follow. We hope that what appears on the search engine result page (SERP) is relevant to us, but the content was not created for us. We don’t know the content writers. We don’t know if they have hidden agendas.

Consequently, more people reach out to their social networks first. They ask a direct question and get a direct answer. The answer is relevant (occasionally) because it has social context. We know our friends, we know their thought process and we know how to interpret what they say. We share similar preferences of like-minded fans. Could it be, then, that fans and friends are becoming the new local search?

The Google Super Bowl ad tried to combat this new mindset. It showed use cases where a search engine can be trusted to engender big improvements in our lives, simply by aggregating diverse content in a convenient medium and format.

It’s tough to predict what the future will bring. It’s safe to assume that Google will deal with this trend the way it knows how – through innovation. But it’s also safe to assume that more and more companies will seek to invest in social media, fearing that by waiting for customers on SERPs, they will lose out to competitors who will acquire and convert visitors from social networking sites.

Does that mean that advertisers should stop all their search and content network campaigns and pull that money into social media? Of course not. But it does mean that companies must embrace social media in a more profound way and explore everything that social media has to offer, such as significant social network advertising, video syndication, widgets and rich Internet application development, engaging micro-site production and so on.

In order to succeed in social media, companies must have a solid foundation of web analytics with which they can track, analyze, and understand the performance of their social media investments and their contribution to the bottom line.

Companies need to measure accurately the incremental uplift gained from social media investments, by attributing credit to interactions and exposures to social assets, whether people click directly from the asset to the website, or indirectly in subsequent website visits.

Fortunately solutions such as Coremetrics Impression Attribution help advertisers to accurately measure and optimize assets deployed on social networking websites. I invite you to review a webinar recording on social media analytics and learn more.

What do you think about the Google super bowl ad? Drop me a line in the comments section.

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