Google Zig-Zagats Into the Real World

If you thought Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) only cared about online tools, you'd better think again. The Internet titan just made a big real-world move by buying restaurant ratings guide Zagat.

Sure, the move is meant to pump steroids into Google's online products such as Maps, Local, and Checkout. Zagat nestles very nicely next to local coupons provider The Dealmap, which Google acquired last month, and more recent addition Zave Networks. Shares of restaurant-reservations dealer OpenTable (Nasdaq: OPEN  ) fell as much as 13% on the Zagat news; neither Groupon nor LivingSocial nor Yelp can be happy about the attention Big G is paying to their net-fueled roaming grounds.

But there's more to this deal than a simple plug-in boost to existing tools. When Zagat ratings come "presented by Google" in newspapers, local ad and coupon collections, and review clippings posted on restaurant walls, the Google brand is exposed to whole new demographics.

Shine that offline light on other Google moves, and perhaps they start to make sense.

  • The Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI  ) deal is superficially all about patents, but also includes cell phones and cable boxes. Google also bought home-theater software specialist SageTV earlier this summer, in case you thought the set-top box part of Motorola was irrelevant.
  • Electric vehicles and autopiloted cars can't be just pointless experiments or applied theory exercises. Google is also working closely with Ford (NYSE: F  ) to help the carmaker analyze driving habits. Don't be surprised if your next car sports colorful Google logos here and there.
  • Then there's that high-speed Internet connection project in Kansas City and, uh, Kansas City. While this is obviously net-related, it hits much closer to home for the affected customers. The familiar Internet service bills from Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC  ) or AT&T (NYSE: T  ) will start coming from Google instead, and the monthly checks go to Mountain View. And as long as the high-speed service isn't a total rip-off, that connection should be a good thing.

In short, Google is on a massive yet sneaky brand awareness campaign. Equating Google with Zagat surveys is one tricky little way to raise the company's profile without spending advertising dollars.

Google is not content with dominating the Internet. The company wants every Luddite to know its name, too.

Brand awareness can be a very powerful business tool. Dolby Labs (NYSE: DLB  ) has mastered that game to perfection, and is set to double or even triple in the digital era as a result. Learn more about Dolby and its branding strategy in this short and totally free video report.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Ford Motor. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Dolby Laboratories, Ford Motor, OpenTable, Google, and AT&T. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio, follow him on Twitter or Google , or peruse our Foolish disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On September 08, 2011, at 11:46 PM, rodnog wrote:

    RE: Dolby... I'm no seasoned investor, but Dolby has had its name on electronics for the past 20 years. What exactly has changed? I would agree that Dolby isn't going to drop off a cliff, but i can't imagine it multi-bagging either.

    From my position as a sound editor, i don't believe that the majority of consumers care enough about Dolby's technology or stamp of approval for it to make a huge impact.

    I'd love to convinced that it's as potentially lucrative as you guys say.

  • Report this Comment On September 08, 2011, at 11:58 PM, rodnog wrote:

    Okay, i checked out their annual report and, of course, they seem to be doing pretty well with their licensing fees, and have their finger in quite a few pies.

    But i still don't buy the "Intel Inside" comparison...

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