Facing competition, Google spends heavily on TV ads

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Facing a competitive landscape for its expanding menu of products, as well as antitrust investigations, privacy blowups and other PR problems that have dinged its once-spotless image, Google is spending more money on sales and marketing than ever before.

That effort is intended to help Google recast its image with consumers as its products broaden far beyond search. Google now sells and rents music and movies online like Amazon and Netflix, competes with Facebook — and soon will be competing head to head with Apple to sell smartphones and tablet computers, if its $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility is approved by regulators.

"They want to get away from just being a hardscrabble engineering company to being a consumer brand," said Karsten Weide, an analyst with research firm IDC. "They realize they cannot win the war against Apple if they don't do that."

Perhaps the most surprising piece of what is likely to be a $4 billion sales and marketing effort in 2011 is Google's decision to embrace a medium its founders once viewed with disdain — TV advertising.

When Google bought its first Super Bowl TV ad in 2010, then-CEO Eric Schmidt remarked on Twitter, "Hell has indeed frozen over." This year, Google has plunged into TV advertising, buying time on shows such as NBC's Saturday Night Live, Fox's Glee, Comedy Central's Futurama and even in major TV events such as the World Series. The ads tout Google's Chrome browser and the software products that run on it.

Google spent nearly four times more on TV advertising time in the first six months of 2011 than in all of 2010, according to estimates by Kantar Media, which tracks ad spending by large companies.

Still, Google's $21.5 million in TV ad spending is a fraction of the $204 million Apple spent to hawk its iPhones and iPads in the first half of 2011, according to Kantar. But Google has spent more heavily than some Silicon Valley companies with a longer TV presence, such as Intel.

Characteristically, Google is blazing its own advertising trail, one that runs counter to some industry trends by focusing on longer spots, storytelling and emotion, said Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix, a Mountain View, Calif., company that analyzes the effectiveness of TV ads. The company is using pop culture icons such as Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and the late Johnny Cash to highlight the constellation of products based on Google's Chrome browser.

The share of Google's revenue spent on sales and marketing has grown from 8 percent in 2009 to 12 percent this year. The company declined to discuss what it spends on TV ads, and TV is just one piece of a strategy with many elements.

"They have built a consumer-marketing team there, and they've produced some very high-production-value commercials," said Daboll, a former Yahoo executive. "This whole storytelling thing that Google has been able to do, experimenting with these long-format 90-second ads, consumers responded very well to."