As any self-respecting nerd will have noticed, and others have already noted, Google recently started advertising its Chrome web browser on billboards and in newspapers around the UK. This represents an escalation of the second phase of the browser wars, and one of the few occasions Google has resorted to billboards to advertise a product.
Why bother advertising a free product?
The answer to why Google are advertising Chrome (which is a free download) is unsurprisingly similar to the answer to the bigger question; why bother building and supporting a free product?
Google make money by monetising user’s searches. People are great at optimising finding and using short-cuts, and modern browsers have built-in search bars. In short, more people using your search bar means more money, and Chrome (like Firefox) defaults to searching on Google.
Billboards – dated but still relevant
Let’s face it, it’s not Google’s style to put up great big billboards. It’s not smart, it’s not targeted, it’s not high-tech. However, ironically those attributes are exactly why they work in this situation.
Google’s main competitor in the search space is Microsoft (who have incidentally been advertising their search engine Bing heavily) and Microsoft’s largest user-base is the slow-moving majority who get Internet Explorer bundled with their PC. Via its default status in Internet Explorer Bing is by default used by that same slow-moving majority.
Since the majority is too big to be worth the extra cost of targeting; the common or garden billboard is a suitable way to get through to them (at the same time as reinforcing the brand with nerds who already know about it).