Google’s Art, Copy, Code conundrum

Who said, “Conveying a call to action in three lines of text is a highly specialist skill

David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, Maurice Saatchi? Nope, Val Harian – and that’s right we hadn’t heard of him either.

Val Harian is Google’s Chief Economist and he was talking about AdWords way back when. Now Google are talking about their new experiment, “Art, Copy & Code” and reimagining advertising in the digitally connected world. As you might expect, paid search is part of their exciting new experiment too. Anything and everything can be more creative in the new digital landscape they say, and who can disagree with them.

Google defines this new approach as “It can be a matter of taking a well known ad space and making it sing with an innovative creative approach. Whether you’re crafting surprising experiences with pre-roll, giving the classic printed circular an online dimension, or simply bringing wit and charm to search ads.” But Google worships at the altar of relevance. For example, Google measures each and every one of the billions of AdWords ads that appear on its search engine for relevance. Why? Because Google rightly believes that it’s only by offering the most relevant searches that it can maintain its pre-eminent, and highly profitable, position as the world’s No 1 search engine. Consequently, Google gives each AdWords ad a Quality Score that measures relevance and rewards advertisers whose ads earn higher Quality Scores with better positions and lower prices on keywords.

What a conundrum

But Google’s shift to encouraging more creativity could pose something of a conundrum here. Taking Google AdWords as an example again, what happens if by “bringing wit and charm to search ads”, you lose relevance in the process. In that case Google would mark down your Quality Score, your ad would be relegated to a far flung page, and if anyone managed to find it in the first place and clicked on it, the cost of the click would be more. So how does one square this particular circle?

One solution could be that Google abandons its commitment to relevance, sacrificing it in the pursuit of greater creativity. But this is highly unlikely as it would allow other search engines back into the game as it were. Or those clever people in Palo Alto might be able to come up with a bunch of algorithms that actually measures creativity and gives it a Quality Score of its own. “Measure creativity!!!” do I hear you cry, and that whirling sound you can now hear in the background by the way is Bill Bernbach spinning in his grave. Forget driverless cars and hi-tech goggles, if Google could actually come up with a way of measuring creativity that really would be something. No, the answer is more likely to lie in not what you do but how you do it. Or in other words not be being creative, but how you’re creative.

ATO Copywriting

Take classic TV commercials like the Cadbury’s Smash Martians for example, or Heineken refreshing the parts other beers couldn’t reach, they were better than the top comedy shows of the time. They were also governed by rules and regulations about what you could or could not say, but rather than this restricting creativity, it actually inspired it, and helped push British advertising to new, world beating creative heights. So perhaps relevance algorithms should be viewed in the same way.

Google’s Art, Copy & Code experiment may be new, but one approach to marrying creativity to the digitally interconnected world has been going for some time.

ATO (Ad Text Optimization) is a process whereby experienced brand and direct marketing copywriters apply their creativity and experience to writing Google AdWords ads. And they do it knowing all about Google’s rules and relevance algorithms. So it can be done. A way of measuring their efforts for creativity hasn’t been established yet, but if Google Analytics and ROI results are anything to go by, advertisers who use this more creative approach are laughing all the way to the bank. When Google talk about experimenting with greater creativity in the new digital landscape, they only have to look at what’s happening in their own Google AdWords backyard to see they’re already onto something.