Pontiac and Google

February 20, 2006

Pontiac’s current TV ad campaign ends with a call to “Google Pontiac” – backing that up with a quick shot of the Google website while Pontiac is typed into the search box.

One would think that Pontiac could achieve their goal of driving people to their website by sending people directly to Pontiac.com – rather than sending them by way of Google. Certainly Pontiac aims to win by association with Google. And it decidedly appeals to that segment of the market that routinely googles just about everything. An interesting strategy, but not without its risks.

As of this writing, “pontiac” yields 62,900,000 results on Google. Pontiac’s paid placement and their natural placement are atop the list. And the first page also includes a bunch of enthusiast sites – like PontiacPower and the Pontiac-Oakland Club International. The irrelevant links – like the Pontiac, Michigan city site and the Pontiac Silverdome site – are innocuous enough.

Yet Pontiac’s move raises some interesting questions. What if a particularly vocal consumer with a particularly active blog had a particularly bad Pontiac experience? What if the buzz around this event were enough to generate top 10 Google status with a Pontiac search? Certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Just ask Dell.

“Dell hell” generates, as of today, over 7,590,000 results. Last summer, Dell notoriously (and much to their own surprise) “introduced” the power of blogs to corporate America when one loud consumer had a horrific Dell customer service experience that seemed to capture the ire of hundreds of other peeved Dell consumers. A few angry blog entries quickly delivered thousands of links – and Dell soon became synonymous with the dangers of the blogosphere. Granted, you’d have to know to type in "Dell hell" in this case – but this is a lingering brand nightmare for Dell (it will never go away from the web) that still impacts results for more innocent searches, like “Dell customer service.”

So what does all of this have to do with Pontiac? Maybe nothing. But maybe a search for Pontiac will yield unexpected results – like a bad review in some car magazine or an unfortunate news incident involving a Pontiac that can ultimately have a negative impact on that select group that bothered to track down Pontiac online in the first place. Sure, “visit our website” is a relic from 1998 and this may be a more au currant way to get there. Yet marketers need to be aware of environments beyond their control. If you’re Pontiac, you’ve got to monitor Google every day for the life of this campaign. If a poor reference comes up high on the list, change the creative and fast. The last thing you want is to find that your ad resonated with consumers – only to find that the first thing they discovered online was your latest recall notice.

And what about Google in all of this? Pontiac likely needed their approval to be a part of the campaign. So, why wouldn’t they say yes? Even if Pontiac is not the best brand for Google to associate with, that’s ok. Google works for everyone. Let Pontiac pay to remind the world that everyone uses Google. Let Pontiac give the Google home page a couple of seconds of network airtime. And, let Pontiac pay per click for all those folks who click on the Pontiac paid placement at the top of the results list. Where’s the downside? I’m sure Google’s hoping more marketers will do the same, further expanding and reinforcing the ubiquity of the Google brand.

- Jonathan Paisner jpaisner@corebrand.com

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