August 25, 2009 Leave a comment
Every year, the market-research firm Millward Brown conducts a survey to determine the economic worth of the world’s brands — in other words, to put a dollar value on the many corporate logos that dominate our lives. Lately the firm’s results have been stuck on repeat: Google has claimed the top spot for the past three years. The most recent report values Google’s brand — those six happy letters that herald so many of our jaunts down the Web’s rabbit hole — at more than $100 billion.
What’s astonishing about this stat is how effortlessly Google seems to have earned the public’s affection. Other companies — Microsoft, Coke, IBM, McDonald’s — spend enormous sums to stay in the consciousness. Google, which makes most of its money from ads, rarely advertises itself. Telling the world how well it does what it does just isn’t Google’s way. (See pictures of work and life at Google.)
But Google’s humility is being tested as never before. The firm’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., seem besieged by competitors gaining new momentum. Even nominal allies are questioning the company’s motives and long-term plans. In July, Google’s largest competitors, Microsoft and Yahoo!, agreed to work together in an attempt to dethrone it as the world’s dominant search engine. The deal, which awaits government approval, would create a first: a tenacious, well-financed search rival.
Conflicts are beginning to take place in other areas where Google has ventured. That includes e-mail and office programs (Gmail, Google Docs), a cell-phone operating system (Android) and a Web browser (Chrome). Google scans and sells books, runs a phone system and is even working on a desktop operating system to rival Windows. CEO Eric Schmidt recently stepped down from Apple’s board of directors because the two companies now compete in so many areas. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating a legal settlement between Google and the publishing industry over the company’s book-scanning service, and Christine Varney, Justice’s antitrust chief, said she sees Google as a “problem.”
At the moment, Google’s most pressing problem is Microsoft. The software giant is spending $100 million to market its new search engine, Bing — and in the process, to get us all bummed about Google. Bing’s slick ads are unavoidable and blistering. They suggest that Google is broken, that it rarely leads us to what we’re looking for and turns us all into blathering zombies who spew out search keywords in casual conversation. (See the top 10 TV ads of 2008.)