By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm
[UPDATE: Google isn't just eating crow about this, but is also punishing itself, by demoting Chrome in Google search results. According to a company statement:
We've investigated and are taking manual action to demote www.google.com/chrome and lower the site’s PageRank for a period of at least 60 days. We strive to enforce Google’s webmaster guidelines consistently in order to provide better search results for users. While Google did not authorize this campaign, and we can find no remaining violations of our webmaster guidelines, we believe Google should be held to a higher standard, so we have taken stricter action than we would against a typical site.
As I explain below, I think that the possibility of skewed search results was only one iffy aspect of this campaign, but it's good to see Google hold itself accountable.]
Yesterday, Aaron Wall and Danny Sullivan reported on an odd Google marketing campaign–okay, a troubling one–that apparently involved Google paying bloggers to publish posts that embedded a Google video featuring Vermont flour maker King Arthur Flour. The effort got mentions of Chrome onto hundreds of blogs–albeit hasty, lame references in at least some cases–and also looked like it might have been designed to juice Chrome’s Google rankings.
Today, Google is disowning the campaign, which it says was conducted without its knowledge by a company with the apt name Unruly Media. Unruly says that it didn’t intend to affect search rankings. But even if it didn’t, the notion of Google products being promoted through subsidized blog posts–abysmal subsidized blog posts–is painfully cheesy.
(It reminds me of Ogilvy’s plans to pay bloggers to write about LG Electronics, which I wrote about recently.)
As Danny points out, the video ad itself is also a tad peculiar. It’s for Chrome, and seems to suggest that Google helped King Arthur get online, perhaps at some point in the recent past. But the company has been selling flour online since 1999, when Google was just a start-up search engine. It may love Chrome today, but it’s an old pro at this Web thing.
Really, the whole thing is a mess. I don’t just hope that it causes Google to be ultra-cautious about sketchy Web campaigns in the future; I hope that other companies pay attention to this embarrassing episode and do likewise.
Side note: The mess did inspire me to go to King Arthur’s site, which has a great gallery of old ads, including a series (from the 1940s?) in which King Arthur himself goes around annoying people by flacking for his namesake flour: