Television doesn't exactly have a fabulous track record as a vehicle for promoting Web sites.
In fact, when I think about TV ads for Web properties, what springs to mind are all those pricey Super Bowl spots for Web 1.0 sites that flopped, such as Pets.com, LifeMinders.com, and OurBeginning.com.
Google+'s TV ad.
So I'm intrigued by Google's decision to run a commercial for its Google+ social network during yesterday's Lions-Packers game. My colleague Chris Matyszczyk has already shared his thoughts on the spot, which you can watch in its entirety over at his post.
Google's decision to plunk down what must have been a very large chunk of change for the ad is the latest sign that it wants vast numbers of normal folks to discover Google+ and use it to share stuff with other normal folks. It wants to take on Facebook directly and rapidly, in a way that no other company could dream of doing.
I like Google+ and would like to see more people I know show up there. For that matter, I like Facebook, too--but I think it never hurts for a big, powerful technology company to have at least one formidable rival. So I'm rooting for Google+ to be a success.
But I''m also worrying a little bit about its prospects. Or at least the prospects of Facebook fans watching a TV commercial, trying Google+, and deciding they'd rather spend time there.
(I'm even worrying about non-nerds finding Google+ after watching the ad, which briefly shows the somewhat geeky URL google.com/+ at the end.)
The TV spot's tagline is "Sharing but like real life." That continues the sales pitch that Google has made for Google+ from the beginning. It says that the Circles feature, which lets you build groups of friends and share selectively with them, makes online sharing feel more natural than it does on Facebook. (Okay, Google never mentions Facebook, but let's face it: It's not comparing Google+ to MySpace or Friendster.)
Is selective sharing a compelling enough idea to make Google+ a mainstream hit? I'm not so sure. For one thing, if the feature is so alluring, it's easy enough for Facebook to play it up more than it did in the pre-Google+ era. In fact, it's already doing so.
For another thing, maybe Facebook's unprecedented success shows that the deep-seated human need to be picky about who we share with, as portentiously explained in Google's ad, isn't so deep-seated after all. Maybe it turns out that people like sharing widely and indiscriminately, in a way that isn't possible in other parts of "real life."
I know I do, anyhow. When I share something random on Facebook and get comments from a childhood pal, a coworker from my first job, and a recent acquaintance, it pleases me. I wouldn't have that experience if I was obsessively sorting my friends into buckets. And that's why I share openly on both Google+ and Facebook.
Already, Facebook feels like real life to me. Most of the people I know are on it at least occasionally, and many of them are so devoted to it that they've replicated their lovable selves there in digital form.
By comparison, Google+--despite its clever interface and attractive features--feels more clinical and less emotional. (Most of the people I interact there fall into one of two groups: professional geek friends and utter strangers.)
Unlike Slate's Farhad Manjoo, I don't think that Google+ is going to die. But I don't believe it's going to be a destination that lures hundreds of millions of people away from Facebook, either.
Google+'s best shot at success involves it becoming indistinguishable from Google. Instead of being a place, it can be the social glue that ties together Google's search engine, Gmail, Google Apps, and scads of other services that hundreds of millions of people already use. If Google figures out how to make its whole dang world feel like a Facebook competitor, it'll be a big deal.
There's lots of evidence that the company is trying to do just that, including the very name "Google+." So I remain cautiously bullish on its long-term chances. But if Google+ is flourishing a few years from now, I'll bet that absolutely nobody thinks that TV commercials made the difference.