Monday, May 09, 2011

A Meandering Google

By Eric Jackson
RealMoney Contributor
5/9/2011 10:45 AM EDT
Click here for more stories by Eric Jackson

Did you catch the new Google (GOOG -commentary - Trade Now) television commercials over the weekend? No, I don't mean the ads for a new Google TV service that's supposed to go up against Apple (AAPL - commentary - Trade Now) TV. I mean actual ads for Google during weekend sports telecasts.

I've seen a couple now. They always drive you back to a sign-up page to download the Google Chrome browser, but the ads are basically selling you on the total Google experience: checking your email through Gmail all day, uploading user-generated videos to YouTube and sharing your photos on Picassa.

This advertising didn't come as a total surprise to me, as I had heard on the last earnings call for Google (Larry Page's infamous first call as CEO) that they were raising the marketing spend for Chrome. However, I somehow expected that they would be spending this money online, in a targeted way, rather than a shotgun old-media ad-buying approach.

It leads you back to the question of just what Larry Page is doing as the CEO of Google. He's now about a month and a half into his tenure, and probably more like five months from the point at which he knew he would be taking over.

Here's what we know, based on various reports:

  • He believes Facebook is the biggest threat to Google, but there's not much happening with Google and social networking. Remember "+1?" Wasn't that supposed to be the service that every Google employee would get all his or her friends and family to start to using and hope for a group bonus at the end of the year? Did +1 ever launch? Larry -- to my knowledge -- also doesn't have a Facebook page or Twitter handle.
  • Page is willing to spend whatever it takes to get or keep talent at Google. Whether it's an extra few million in stock options to counter talent being lured away, or across-the-board 10% pay hikes for all employees, Larry is willing to pay up for the long-term good. That's partly why operating expenses were up 43% last quarter.
  • Google is now advertising itself during major TV sports events. They want the same viewers who drink Miller Lite and order Papa John's Pizza (PZZA - commentary - Trade Now) to create a Gmail account and start videoing themselves for their 15 minutes of fame on YouTube. This would seem to be the opposite of the approach which they took to revolutionize the advertising business with their Google AdWords. Forget the targeted approach; go mass media and let's see how many fish we can catch.
  • There's no real change in Google's strategy or, at least, there's no real articulation for where the company wants to go. We know Page is in a hurry to get somewhere, but we're not really sure where that is and how it differs from where Eric Schmidt was leading the company.
  • Pet projects will apparently continue. Driverless cars, wind turbine farms in Oregon and future space missions are still, it seems, part of the broader Google strategy -- until we hear otherwise.

With these messages coming out in slow drips from the Googleplex, it is hard for investors to get excited.


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