Google's "Zeitgeist 2012: Year in Review"

A Communication Campaign Corner by Jake Housdon

On December 12, 2012, Google released its marketing campaign entitled “Zeitgeist 2012: Year in Review.” This campaign was aptly named, as it achieved more than simply summarizing the year’s events, by encapsulating the true “spirit of our time.”

The term ‘zeitgeist’ was originally coined by German idealist philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, and can be described as “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.”

By using real Google search data to artistically portray a reflection of reality, this campaign transcends the fictional barrier and enthralls the viewer. Google has stylistically incorporated product demonstrations of its search bar technology, using actual viral YouTube videos.

Google employs a peripheral route to persuasion through the use of emotional appeal, weaving together scenes of human achievement, which took place during 2012. Google chose to highlight clips, which portrayed technological advancement, political liberation, passion and unity, as well as chaos and tragedy, in addition to a dose of popular culture—the types of clips which transcend cultural barriers and trigger universal emotional responses.

In terms of the delivery tools used, the campaign was launched through social media with a post on Google’s site YouTube in the form of a short video. The campaign’s delivery tool is validated by its over 14 million views on YouTube.

The cinematography starts off linear, informative and logical, and progresses to become more fast-paced, and emotionally climactic. The musical accompaniment that was selected for the video is an instrumental arrangement of Kodaline’s “All I Want,” which features percussion and chord progressions that help build the emotional intensity.

In addition to the video, an Android application, interactive map, and pop-up website were launched as supportive delivery tools. The information-heavy, data-driven website helps to supplement the short video clip with a more in depth examination of the most searched terms, events and people. This helps serve a cognitive function, which is important for many of Google’s users.

Google’s Zeitgeist 2012 campaign uses rational and emotional appeal simultaneously. The campaign’s rational appeal has been generated through the search data, which is essentially at the backbone of Google’s communication concept. Using raw data from 1.2 trillion searches, from 55 countries, Google pulled out the top contending search terms to highlight in the video. They are presented in a logical fashion. The data forms the basis of the campaign, while it is brought to life through the strong emotional appeal that the video and music editing conjure. This bilateral focus on rational and emotional appeal is symbolic of Google’s corporate image and is highly attributable to their success.

When it comes to the tactics used to create the campaign’s appeal, Google took a multi-faceted approach. The campaign is affective, cognitive and conative in nature, to varying extents.

Google’s extensive use of emotion in the video definitely classifies as an affective tactic; it leverages an emotional appeal to target the ‘liking’ stage of the hierarchy of effects, which was the campaign’s primary stage of focus. The emotional connection associated with Google as a brand is a strong differentiating factor, setting it apart from other significant search engines such as Yahoo, Ask and Bing, which offer similar user experiences.

Cognitively, Google emphasizes its unique selling proposition as the world’s leading search engine provider, which is validated through the incredible number of search queries it boasted, and the amount of views it garnered for videos on YouTube in 2012.

Finally, Google used a strong conative tactic in the form of a call to action. Following the emotional climax, Google implores viewers to “search on,” a nod toward embracing the future together. This is a continuation of the curiosity motif, which is touched upon in the opening of the movie where Google toasts to “the curious.” Google is speaking directly to the audience, urging their users to remain inquisitive. These tactics helped drive home the message they seek to communicate, which is that Google helps humanity unlock its potential.

Additionally, by focusing the campaign on the most heavily trafficked and most popular search terms, Google drew under the spotlight many globally influential people. Google was able to invoke their use as spokespeople, without actually formally soliciting their help. Since Google is more or less acting as our gateway to the web, and owns the content people post on YouTube, it can do so without requiring permission.

Google targeted a vast audience by creating universal appeal. This campaign was literally directed to any human being who has viable access to the Internet. There was something for everyone, regardless of culture, age, or psychographic characteristics; Google is speaking out to the human race with this campaign.

As a brand, Google has positioned itself as the gatekeeper to the Internet and thus as the primary purveyor of information in this information age. It also portrays itself as a beacon for technological innovation, a theme that is highly emphasized throughout the campaign. In terms of the products highlighted in this campaign, Google has positioned them as the world market leaders in both the online search engine and video-sharing spaces. Google is known for software that is minimalist in design, focused on functionality and usability, heavily algorithm-driven, and cutting-edge. As compared to other search engines, Google provides a more palatable ad experience, as it was a pioneer in allowing only text-based ads on its sites.

This campaign could be expanded to include a series of video segments showcasing a selection of influential people who have used YouTube to gain their stardom in 2012. Young talent such as electronic music producer Madeon, of France, comes to mind. At the age of sixteen, he launched a full-time career after one of his tracks went viral on YouTube. By having links to longer videos, which tell more in depth, personal stories about these influential people, Google could further intensify the emotional impact and appeal of the campaign. Though the medium is still a digital video, these segments would act as a new supportive delivery tool.

The objectives of an extension of the campaign through this more intimate delivery tool would only minimally vary from the campaign’s core objective, in that it would help gear the campaign’s message toward younger Internet users, and the spotlight would be cast on YouTube specifically. The objective of this series of longer video segments would be to provide more emotional depth, and further associate the Google brand with up and coming, successful, cutting-edge talent.

Below is a tentative outline of the key activities required to implement the supportive delivery tool, with a launch date of New Year’s Eve—Zeitgeist 2014.

Me at Google HQ in sunny Mountain View, California, last summer! :)

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