Search: The New Branding Medium

GoogleFor years people argued that search was in fact a “branding medium.” Companies whose links appeared at the top of search results saw a lift in brand metrics. There was also a “branding effect” from associating companies with particular keywords.

However most digital agencies and a large majority of marketers continued to regard paid search exclusively as a direct response medium, largely because of the text-based and constrained nature of the ads. There was no imagery; there was no emotion. It was all about data and spreadsheets.

However Google’s new brand image ads experiment changes all that. Suddenly, as the ad below indicates, search becomes a branding medium — and a powerful one at that.

Compare for example the following two search results for “Nike.” The first is the current, conventional search result (with store locations):


Then consider the experimental brand image ad (courtesy of Barry Schwartz). It’s obvious which one is more “effective.” The ad below has more aesthetic appeal and more emotional impact. It’s “warmer.”


Let’s assume that Google proceeds with this experiment and these graphical enhancements become a fixture in brand-search results. The next question becomes: will Google expand this program and permit the winner of any “generic” keyword auction to show a similar, branded ad unit at the top of the SERP? For example: LG for “refrigerator,” United Airlines for “flights to Hawaii” or Zillow for “homes for sale, Walnut Creek.”

It certainly would create additional incentives for companies to bid higher to be “number one.” I’m getting way ahead of myself but it’s very interesting to contemplate.

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