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Google Turns Its Home Page Into a Billboard

Just days after Apple’s patent victory over Samsung, the tablet marketing wars are heating up. Google.com is advertising its two-month-old $199 Nexus 7 tablet. But Google has one marketing weapon its competitors can’t match: A homepage that gets a virtually guaranteed hundreds of millions of views a day.

Click on Google’s search page on Wednesday and the Nexus 7 pops up from the bottom of the page with the slogan: “The playground is open. The new $199 tablet from Google.” So why now? “This is a great time for Google to promote this tablet,” says branding consultant Rob Frankel. Given the uncertainty about how Apple’s victory will impact Android manufacturers, he says now is the time to aggressively push those devices. (Google says that most of Apple’s patent claims don’t relate to its core Android operating system.)

It’s also a sign that competition in the increasingly congested tablet market is getting fierce, pros say, especially given some of the tablet’s mixed reviews. On Tuesday, Amazon.com also ran an advertisement front and center on its homepage for its 11-month old $199 Kindle Fire. (A Google spokesman says the ad was not in reaction to any particular event.) Apple’s mini iPad is scheduled for release next month and is expected to be closer in price to the Nexus 7, Frankel says. “Amazon isn’t shy about plugging its tablet,” he says. “On Apple’s home page, you’re going to see an iPad — not a Nexus. Why shouldn’t Google do the same?”

One reason: Google risks tarnishing its brand by effectively using the search page for advertising space. Many consumers see Google as a “public utility” rather than as an online store like Amazon or Apple, Frankel says. Typically, the home page entertains the public rather than selling to it — using the creative Google Doodle, which regularly changes shape to celebrate cultural and historic events like the Olympics or NASA’s Curiosity Rover landing on Mars. “This advertisement turns the home page into an online billboard,” says technology consultant Jeff Kagan. “It’s usually a nice quiet spot on the Internet, free of advertising.”

But with over a billion unique visitors every month, experts say, Google’s search page is one of the most valuable — and underused — pieces of online real estate on the planet. Kagan says many companies would bid “tens of millions of dollars” for that space for just one day. “It’s bigger than the Superbowl,” he says. And it’s only recently started harnessing that power to plug its own gadgets. Last year, it ran a link promoting a deal for the Nexus S smartphone, and it ran a promotion for the Google+ social network when it was released. Google first used its home page as a billboard in 2009, when it promoted the Motorola Droid phone, which uses Google’s operating system.

A Google spokesman, however, says the company has never allowed third parties to use Google’s home page to sell their wares (he declined to say how often advertisements for its own products will appear). “I could never imagine Google selling that page to any advertiser for any amount of money,” says Cameron Yuill, founder and CEO of AdGent Digital, a New York-based digital and media company. Indeed, he says, Google will have enough of its own gadgets to sell in the months and years ahead. In May 2012, Google purchased Motorola Mobility through a $12.5 billion deal that came with thousands of patents and an army of Android gadgets that currently use Google’s operating system.




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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.