Claire Beale on Advertising

You need to play the search-engine game if your brand is to be a hit

A very 21st-century question for you. Which is the more popular: Google or sex? Are you even hesitating with your answer? Clearly there's no question which one most of us spend more time doing. Googling, hands down. But for the ultimate proof, Google itself has the answer.

More people are searching the search engine for the search engine than for stuff about sex. Type Google into Google and you'll find 861 million web pages. Sex - always a good benchmark for mass appeal - has a relatively puny 452 million. In case you're wondering, "porn" - which is apparently what really drives all new media technologies into popular culture - has just 100 million pages.

So perhaps you won't be surprised at last week's news that Google pockets almost half of all internet ad spend in the UK. And if you think even for a moment that, well, it's only the internet and that's still small ad-spend beer, think again. According to last week's stats from the Internet Advertising Bureau, the web just overtook national newspapers in the ad spend stakes. Two billion pounds is what advertisers here spent on the web last year. That's almost half of all TV ad spend, and closing.

Yes, the web carries lots of classified ads that plenty of the other big media don't get a slug of. So it's not exactly a like-for-like comparison. Even so, consider: the internet is now a bigger ad vehicle than radio, than posters, than cinema. And whole swathes of the ad industry are still relatively disenfranchised from it.

So brand advertising on the internet is only going one way, but the really big opportunity for many brands right now is playing the Search game. An example: apparently there were 14 million searches in the UK for the term "credit card" last month - 14 million people actively seeking information. That's a lot of eager eyeballs. So getting your brand at the top of the search findings, that's the big prize. Of course, you can pay to be there (which Barclaycard has done on "credit card"), but there are plenty of clever ruses advertisers can use to get towards the top of the natural search charts by understanding how Google ranks sites.

Google weights sites according to whether they are an "authority" on a subject. The more authoritative Google's techie kit thinks your site is on a particular subject, the higher up the search results you go.

But brands and their websites can manipulate the results. By embedding certain terms into their web copy and ensuring that their site is a link from other "authoritative" sites, advertisers can nudge up the rankings. It might be a bugger to do (and requires oodles of techie know-how and media nous) but the principle is simple enough. Yet it's amazing how big brands can get it so wrong.

Take Daimler. Daimler, being a posh brand, had a certain distaste to referring to its used cars as, well, "used" or "second hand". So the company referred to all second hand Daimlers as "pre-owned". Much more elegant, yes. But anyone doing a Google search to buy a second-hand Daimler is not going to search under the term "pre-owned". We just don't talk like that in the real world. So, surprise, surprise, Daimler's own site was way down the search listings because it didn't include the terms people were actually searching for: "second-hand" or "used". In the financial markets, brands have caught on to this. You'll find a lot of companies have changed product names from Life Assurance to Life Insurance, because punters don't search for "assurance".

Of course, there's a burgeoning quarter of the ad industry champing to help advertisers to work all this stuff out. And, of course, because it's got nothing to do with pretty pictures and big budgets, it's not sexy adland. But the relentless march of Google and its search engine rivals underlines exactly how vital it is for big brands to get it right. Makes sex seem like a doddle.

SEX AGAIN. Or rather, "mastication". Sounds a bit like masturbation. If you're not listening carefully and have a particularly prurient sensibility. So I reckon Trident's ad agency, JWT, thought it was being rather edgy and a little bit cheeky by devising what the rest of us recognise is quite possibly the worst strapline ever seen in advertising: "Mastication for the nation."

I bet they had a bit of a giggle about that one, huh? And I bet they secretly hoped it might stoke a bit of controversy that would give the Trident brand some extra oomph as it launched into a market almost wholly dominated by rival Wrigley's. Heck, there was no hope that the advertising script alone would get the nation salivating.

Regular readers of this column will remember that I gave the Trident ad a bit of a battering a few weeks ago. It caused me some pain to do it because JWT is not an agency in robust health at the moment and nobody wants to kick a sick dog. But Trident is Cadbury's big play into the £300m chewing gum market, the culmination of two years of pre-launch prep. It's not just taking on Wrigley's; it's hoping to redraw the nation's jawing habits. Less hygiene, more pleasure: chewing gum as spit-it-out sweetie. After years of chewing in pursuit of oral social acceptability (pre-brushing, post-curry), now we're being encouraged to enjoy its juicy fruit flavour.

Except that instead of enjoying it, quite a few of us were offended by it. More than 500 were offended enough to get off their backsides and call the Advertising Standards Authority to say so; considering the natural inertia of the human condition that's quite remarkable.

But not nearly as remarkable as the fact that Cadbury knew that its ads - showing a black comedian with strong Caribbean accent doing a stand-up routine about gum and white people talking with Caribbean accents - would not play well with a significant proportion of the African-Caribbean population. Well, I say significant, but clearly that's a matter of some debate. Cadbury's own pre-testing of the ad found that one in five of African-Caribbeans were offended by the concept, but Cadbury didn't find that figure significant enough to call a halt.

Cadbury's reasoning is that this 20 per cent offensiveness level is in line with the general population scores found across the board in pre-testing, which seems pretty staggering to me. And Cadbury says the spontaneous comments about being offended were limited to the African population, the sort of argument you might make in favour of shooting yourself in the foot.

Anyway, the ASA has cried foul and shot the ads: a mercy killing for these malformed commercials. It's been a sorry affair. JWT is not a bad agency and certainly neither client nor agency set out to offend. It seems likely that the combination of a bad creative idea, excruciatingly executed, and naive insensitivity combined to cause genuine distress among consumers. The fact remains, though, that to spend two years, many millions of pounds and an awful lot of energy producing a marketing drive that so many find racist shows a gross error of governance.

Claire Beale is editor of 'Campaign'; claire.beale@haynet


PlayStation has a history of producing some brilliantly weird, award-winning advertisements. Theirs was the original second life, and the commercials by TBWA perfectly evoked the gaming experience. Of course, first life was a quite bit simpler back then. Not just for the gamers - for whom the early PlayStations were addictively different, despite their relative simplicity - but also for the manufacturers themselves.

These days the competitive set (including all the gaming, Second Life, World of Warcraft stuff on the web) is fierce. And when you consider that the three biggies - PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Wii - have just launched their latest generation games, with budgets to match, ad standout is key. TBWA's latest, for PlayStation3, doesn't disappoint. Set in a nightmare hotel populated with the requisite cast of weirdos, it's as impenetrable, lush and bizarre as you could wish for. And this being geek/youth territory it lives beautifully online, too. And I've absolutely no idea what it all means, which somehow seems just as it should be.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before