That's Just Dumb, Google

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This might be Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) worst idea yet.

Beginning today, The Big G will advertise the advantages of its Google Apps cloud-computing productivity suite via billboards in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Boston. The aim: Wean users off of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) well-heeled and highly-profitable Office suite.

The campaign, called "Go Google," has a certain degree of merit; cloud computing is catching on. Even Microsoft is grabbing for a slice of this growing pie with its Azure platform. But Google's strategy is downright nonsensical. Billboards for a 21st-century e-commerce powerhouse? Someone call the irony police.

To be fair, billboards have proven effective for decades. Lamar Advertising (Nasdaq: LMAR  ) , the largest supplier of these roadside tableaus, operates a $1-billion-a-year business. CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) reports that outdoor advertising is its second-largest source of revenue.

Billboards also have a history in Silicon Valley. Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) and one-time foe Informix fought a visible and entertaining PR war via billboards during the '90s. Web software pioneer (NYSE: CRM  ) has used mobile billboards as recruiting tools.

A good time for Big Goo
There's also plenty to like about Google Apps. Gmail has become my primary mail client. I'm a heavy user of the GTalk instant messaging service. I've arranged my iPhone to sync in real-time with my Google address book and calendar, a la Microsoft's Exchange service. Most of what I do for connectivity, I do through Google. Now The Big G wants me, and millions more, to take a step further by adopting its word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software.

If only the implementation matched the messaging. Using vinyl-slicked billboards to pitch cloud computing is like using Styrofoam cups to pitch recycling. Digital billboards -- less glitzy versions of the Jumbotrons you find in Vegas or Times Square -- would have been better.

"On billboards, digital technology produces static images which are changed via computer (typically every six or eight seconds) ... Advertisers can change their messages quickly, including multiple times in one day," reads a definition offered by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.

Now that sounds more like something befitting a would-be cloud-computing giant that built its business via targeted search advertising. Ditch the vinyl and go digital, Google, before it's too late.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Google and a stock position in Oracle at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy took its last drink from a Styrofoam cup in 1984.

Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 03, 2009, at 3:26 PM, ReadEmAnWeep wrote:

    It makes sense for them to want to advertise their product off line. That is where they can reach the biggest group of people that haven't heard of their product before

  • Report this Comment On August 03, 2009, at 6:04 PM, RobertC314 wrote:

    I don't see anyone seeing a Google billboard and thinking, "Golly, an old-fashioned billboard, cloud computing must be old news". At the end of the day I think the brand recognition is more important than any subconscious aversion people may have to seeing digital products advertised on physical media.

    Given the premise of the article though, I would like to offer an alternate analysis of the strategy. One of the biggest fears people could have with moving all their applications "online" somehow makes these important documents temporary or fleeting. By seeing a real-life physical billboard they are reassured that it will be there next week(/month/year/...). On the other hand, if they were to see an 8-second blip about "Google Docs" that disappears and is replaced by a Chevy ad they may be inclined to rush home and pull everything they can off the server before Google follows suit.

  • Report this Comment On August 03, 2009, at 8:18 PM, jd8019 wrote:

    From a marketing stand point, it isn't stupid to advertise on billboards. It is very ironic I agree, however, it may be very effective in the long run.

  • Report this Comment On August 04, 2009, at 10:34 AM, Racovius wrote:

    Yeah, I pretty much agree with RobertC314, except for the fact that nobody says "Golly" anymore. That Chevy's won't be on billboards for a while, even with the new GM.

    So call the Irony Police if you want. The only thing they'll do is arrest you for wasting their time by abusing the 911 system for something so mundane and stupid.

  • Report this Comment On August 04, 2009, at 2:07 PM, crca99 wrote:

    Oh, do I dispise digital billboards. Makes me feel like a TV is stuck to the front of my face going wherever I go. I don't want the great outdoors to feel like a living room, and for safety, the eye follows a moving image. Those eyes should be following cars and kids jumping into traffic, not moving billboard images.

  • Report this Comment On August 04, 2009, at 3:02 PM, vishtr wrote:

    The environmental plastic cup and enviromental friendly is a completely false analogy. Those who would be for environmentally friendly markets would not want to use the cups and therefore not see the ads. To suggest computer users never see the light of day (and thusly billboards) is wrong.

    Your article is based off a false assumption.

  • Report this Comment On August 04, 2009, at 3:24 PM, ceigenberger wrote:

    Google has niche-marketed their products to death so to me it makes perfect sense to reach new customers through the use of a mass reach medium like billboards. In fact with the ongoing fragmentation of TV and Radio billboards have become more relevant.

    How's that saying go..."everything old is new again"

  • Report this Comment On August 15, 2009, at 8:23 PM, White2009 wrote:

    Agree with ReadEmAnWeep. It is indeed a regular Marketing tool, so why get surprised? Used this article for my <a href=" Marketing paper</a>

    The prof was pleased: )


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