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Lately, digital giant Google Inc. has been helping to send thousands of kisses around the world, as part of a larger campaign to woo the biggest brand advertisers to move more of their budgets into the digital world.

In the lingo of those halcyon summer camp days, when snail mail still mattered, the abbreviation S.W.A.K. would let the addressee know that a missive was sealed with a kiss.

Lately, digital giant Google Inc. has been helping to send thousands of kisses around the world, as part of a larger campaign to woo the biggest brand advertisers to move more of their budgets into the digital world.

Obviously, the tech behemoth has not been using paper mail; the envelopes are digitally generated, and allow users to imprint their own kiss on the image by puckering up for a webcam, then send that image instantly to someone they love. It's a campaign that Google launched in partnership with Burberry in June. The 157-year-old fashion brand was looking for a project to help it gain more influence among younger consumers. So, Google helped it to design the "Burberry Kisses" as a way of giving those young people an emotional connection to Burberry that they would be inclined to share.

But the initiative is more than a Google-enabled digital ad for Burberry. It is also emblematic of a campaign that Google is now beginning in earnest to market itself to advertisers. The Burberry project was one of two partnerships struck through Google's new " Art, Copy & Code " program.

The program will see Google choose just a couple of marketers per year to co-invest on digital projects to build their brands. The pitch: the marketer gets a digital campaign that works across a number of websites and devices, and Google gets to show off its products to those brands, and other major global companies who may see the campaigns.

"When we work with these folks, we talk about how ideas can come to life through our ad products, but also how other Google non-ad products [such as Google Maps or the Chrome web browser] can make those experiences better," said Google product marketing manager Mike Glaser, who is part of the company's Advertising Arts team in New York. Mr. Glaser will be in Toronto next week to discuss the project at the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada (IAB) MIXX conference.

The vast majority of Google's revenue – 95 per cent in 2012 – comes from advertising. Research firm eMarketer estimates that Google will draw roughly one-third of the world's total digital advertising revenue this year. But the company is hoping to continue to grow those numbers by positioning itself not just as a place to invest in search engine advertising or key word targeting. It wants to be top of mind when advertisers and their agencies think about how to make use of the budgets they are increasingly moving into digital.

"Turning our attention to brand marketers, this is a very important area for us where we continue to invest broadly," Nikesh Arora, Google's chief business officer, told analysts on a conference call in July to discuss its most recent earnings report. "It's important because the largest global marketers from CPG [consumer packaged goods] companies to film studios all conduct large major brand advertising campaigns. Of course, that represents significant budgets that have historically been spent on TV."

In addition to Burberry, the Art, Copy & Code program has also partnered with Volkswagen of America Inc. Together, the companies decided to harness people's growing obsession with cataloguing their lives and sharing on social media. They built an app called SmileDrive , which uses Google's Android mobile phone technology, GPS location in Google Maps, and other tools to catalogue each user's drive – whether a commute to work or a weekend road trip.

The tool works regardless of whether a user is driving a VW, but like the Burberry campaign it seeks to tie the brand to a positive experience it provides. That type of "engagement" is more sought after, especially now, when young consumers have more distractions at their fingertips and less reason to pay attention to classic advertising.

The VW app lets drivers track their route, the time the drive took, and even the weather, and log it for sharing with their friends on social media (with an obligatory plug for the Google+ social network). It can layer in photos taken en route, and gameifies the drive with virtual "punches" (a take on the old game of punch buggy) and "stickers" for tasks, such as "Night Owl" for a nighttime drive. Research showed that 144 million Americans spend on average 52 minutes a day in the car, and the campaign was designed to reach them during what adds up to a major part of their day.

These collaborations are a followup to a more experimental project that Google did – with the same goal of advertising itself to advertisers – last year. " Project Re:brief " took old ads, such as the "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" anthem, and reimagined them for a digital age. The project won the first Grand Prix in the Mobile category at the Cannes advertising festival in 2012.

Mr. Glaser calls Re:brief the "concept car" – referring to the fanciful souped-up models of the future that act as advertising for car makers at auto shows – and "Art, Copy & Code" the real-world application of that approach.

"We'd seen some of that work. We've been noticing Google trying to get a little closer to advertisers and providing real utility for us," said Justinn Osborne, general manager for marketing communications at Volkswagen of America.

Mr. Osborne recognizes that this is a symbiotic relationship: Even with the co-investment, Volkswagen's participation means the company is likely to spend more money with Google. But he said his team has seen the return on that investment, with fairly little cost upfront. While download numbers on the app are confidential, he says it is already close to surpassing year-end targets. And his team has also learned from Google; the company helped connect VW with people who have large followings on YouTube and other social media to promote the app. This week, Volkswagen executives were invited to the San Bruno, Calif., office to learn about building better branded content.

"We like the idea of not only Volkswagen owners but also potential owners, they've got a little Volkswagen with them every day and Volkswagen is giving them a bit of added value and utility. Eventually, maybe they'll come our way. Eventually, we could start delivering them tailored content," he said.

Google's Mr. Glaser points to the "incredible B.S. meters" that younger consumers have developed toward traditional advertising. By demystifying digital tools, his team hopes to convince advertisers that there is a better way to connect with them.

"We've had 40, 50, 60 years to perfect the 30-second spot … but online is still a teenager," he said. "We're still developing that. It's a big question that we get from our brand partners, and it's a big question we want to crack because we're heavily invested in the Web."

"It's nice having some test cases out there and having some success with them. It makes it easier to break down barriers internally on getting dollars allocated to those channels," Mr. Osborne said. "Television feels safe to most people … but once you've got [return on investment] behind some of the digital, you start to see it really quick. This is content that people are choosing to interact with."


Google's advertising revenue 2008: $21.1-billion (U.S.) (up 28.7 per cent from the previous year)

2009: $22.9-billion (up 8.3 per cent)

2010: $28.2-billion (up 23.4 per cent)

2011: $36.5-billion (up 29.4 per cent)

2012: $43.7-billion (up 19.6 per cent)

How the $117.6-billion (U.S.) global digital ad revenue broke down, by company, in 2012

Google: 31.46 per cent

Facebook: 4.11 per cent

Yahoo!: 3.37 per cent

Microsoft: 2.46 per cent

IAC: 1.26 per cent

AOL: 1.02 per cent

Amazon: 0.59 per cent

Twitter: 0.28 per cent

Pandora: 0.36 per cent

LinkdIn: 0.25 per cent

Millenial Media: 0.07 per cent

Other: 54.77 per cent

*Source: eMarketer report