Google buys billboards to drive Apps traffic

Google is a master at selling advertising, but it’s never done much buying on its own behalf, especially in traditional media. When you’ve built up a dominant position through word of mouth the way Google has in search, there’s not much need. But in the area of enterprise cloud computing, Google knows it’s in a dogfight with Microsoft and others, and though it’s still counting on enthusiastic adopters to do its evangelizing, the search sovereign is trying to fertilize that grass-roots lobbying by turning to a decidedly retro medium: the billboard.

Today brings the launch of the “Going Google” campaign, featuring billboards aimed at IT workers slogging through their commutes along Hwy. 101 in San Francisco, the West Side Highway in New York, the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago, and the Massachusetts Turnpike in Boston. The billboards, simple black type on a plain white background, take the form of an IT manager’s progressive discovery of all that is wonderful about having workers creating, communicating and collaborating in the cloud with Google Apps (in unspoken contrast to, say, Microsoft Office). Google is giving the old format one modern upgrade, however — a higher refresh rate. The billboards will carry a new message every working day for a month (and to maintain the company’s environmental bona fides, after each day’s ad comes down, the vinyl will be recycled or repurposed as shopping bags or computer satchels). The billboards urge drivers to swing by a site introducing Google Apps. And for Google-loving cubicle dwellers who wish their company would see the light, there’s also a page of “Go Google” campaign material, including a form letter to e-mail to the IT department (where it will undoubtedly be received with thanks and gratitude).

Google says that so far, more than 1.75 million businesses, schools and organizations have signed up to use the various combinations of Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and the other Google apps, but that’s a mere fraction of potential clients. Talking about the campaign to, Matthew Glotzbach, who directs the search giant’s enterprise applications group, said, “Like anything else at Google, we launch, test and iterate. The big picture here is that this is one of the larger ad campaigns Google’s engaged in. Google executives have said great companies will thrive in downturns and we’re putting a lot of investment in our enterprise business as it continues to grow.”


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