It’s no longer news when the company that once famously refused to run commercials does so — another sign of conventionality in the company that promised not to be conventional — but it is still rare enough to be worthy of analysis.
Above is the Google holiday commercial, where the Muppets do a Google+ Hangout.
You get a sense of Google’s strategic priorities by seeing that it’s spending millions to promote Google+. The war for personal information is crucial to Google, and it’s the impetus behind Google+, as I’ve written here. Further information comes in a follow-up interview with Bradley Horowitz, a co-leader of the project.
You get a sense of what works well in Google+ by noting that the focus of the ad is Hangouts, a relatively late addition to Google+ that has helped hone its purpose. It’s a cool feature, but also makes a statement: This product is about what’s happening now. Google is well-placed to be a leader in real-time presence, and merging group chat into a social experience has been a win.
But there’s another message, too. You get a sense of Google’s culture — and who the people of Google are — by the choice of the Muppets as the stars of the commercial. Muppets are central to the lives of Googlers. The vast majority of Googlers are people in their twenties and thirties who have completed the perilous obstacle course of the meritocracy, probably starting when their ambitious parents plucked them in front of the telly to absorb the lessons of Big Bird and Count Von Count. (My bet is that many of those parents were otherwise parsimonious with tube time.) Along with the lessons, they bonded with the puppets, much as toddlers get fixated on blankies and stuffed animals.
As a result, even the most math-geeky Googlers kind of melt at the sight of Miss Piggy. It’s not even too much of a stretch to claim that the do-goody ethic of Sesame Street was the forerunner of Don’t Be Evil.
The Muppets keep popping up at the Googleplex. Google’s very first paid employee, Craig Silverstein, was the founder of the internet group rec.arts.henson+muppets
One of the languages included in Google’s translation program is the weird (“bork, bork, pork!”) pidgin of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets Show.
According to Doug Edwards (in his memoir I’m Feeling Lucky) in Google’s early days, the most important chart on the internal web site was the measure of search quality of various engines. Each line on the chart (representing the effectiveness of a given company in delivering results) was labeled by a Muppet character. Google’s label for itself was “The Great Gonzo.”
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