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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 salesforce.com (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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