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Digital rethink: Google's new high-tech pitch to marketers

Marie Josée Lamothe, director of consumer packaged goods and branding, is photographed in Toronto, Ontario, Monday May 5, 2014.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Marie Josée Lamothe is not yet "thinking like a Googler," she admits. She's still thinking like a CMO. But that may be exactly what Google Inc. needs.

The former chief marketing officer of L'Oreal Canada is just a few weeks into her new role at Google Canada as the liaison with marketing executives like her. She'll be selling marketers on how Google can play a bigger role in their communication with customers. Her role – director of consumer packaged goods and branding for Canada – did not exist before. (She is also marketing director for Quebec.)

Within the past year, Google has been making a greater effort to woo both advertisers and their agencies on its technology. At its root is an attempt to get a bigger slice of ad budgets by persuading clients and agencies to think about digital as a more central part of their advertising.

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This week, the company is holding its Think Brand event in Toronto, showing off campaigns in a gallery-like space for an audience of marketers from across the country and ad agencies. "We'll be helping marketers to bring their messaging to life in a very integrated way; not just online or offline," Ms. Lamothe said during her first interview in her new role. "There's no such thing as a 'line' to consumers, any more."

At L'Oreal, Ms. Lamothe was part of an effort to shift its communication strategy. For example, rather than simply sponsoring the Toronto International Film Festival, it hired its own correspondent for celebrity red carpet interviews that aired on L'Oreal's YouTube channel. It enlisted online fans to create a special makeup collection ahead of TIFF, which sold in stores during the festival.

"In old marketing it used to be, if we had the right price, the right communication in the marketing, the right [point of purchase strategy] and the right TV ad, we were great," she said. "The brand ecosystem has enlarged. It's not about when the brand wants to talk to the consumer; it's when the consumer feels like hearing it … it's the consumer coming to the brand where it's relevant – assuming the brand is there."

Google's sales pitch, then, is to persuade marketers to allow the tech giant to help them consider digital as more than just a silo in their marketing strategies.

As a marketer herself, Ms. Lamothe says she would see campaigns by advertisers such as Burberry, which built a way to send digital kisses with personalized lipstick prints – and would think that there was no budget for a something like that at L'Oreal. But Google wants to show marketers how others have used its APIs – the coding that can enable digital campaigns – so that they can see what already exists without needing to build a campaign from scratch.

"Marketers understand they need to talk the way consumers talk," Ms. Lamothe said. "… They don't see it as, 'Here's a campaign from this brand, and then three months later there's another campaign.' They just think of the brand. If it's always on, it always exists, and I find the brand where they're relevant. The consumer is way ahead of the industry in the way they consume digital, because they make it part of their everyday life … and yet we don't market that way."

Google wants to show marketers how others have used its APIs – the coding that can enable digital campaigns – so they can see what already exists without needing to build a campaign from scratch. It's part of the company's effort to get a bigger slice of ad budgets by persuading clients and agencies to think about digital as a more central part of their advertising.

Some examples:

Arcade Fire's Wilderness Downtown and Nature Valley's Trail View

The first HTML5 music video for Arcade Fire used Google’s Street View to personalize the video for each person, locating it in their childhood neighbourhood once they typed in the address. Google has put a big emphasis on showcasing its creativity in recent years. Arcade Fire got a big bump in attention from people who were interested in the project. Nature Valley used Street View to promote its corporate charitable work in national parks preservation. The granola bar brand used Street View to take people to backcountry hiking trails through the Web. The hiking theme fit with the brand but presented it in a different way than advertising would. “Technology can bring an experience, much more than an ad, to the consumer,” Ms. Lamothe said.

O2's Be More Dog

The U.K.-based telecommunications company received more than 3-million views on YouTube for a funny commercial about a cat – all sneering indifference – who wakes up to the joy of life and decides to be more like a dog. The idea was that life should be enjoyed (and technology can help.) One aspect of the campaign was a mobile game that allowed people to visit a website and use their phones to throw a frisbee to the dog-like cat on the screen. Why on earth should this matter to a serious marketer? “It’s one way of interacting with the consumer and making them stay on your site a little longer,” Ms. Lamothe explains. More importantly: “It’s being playful and entertaining. You can’t always only be promotional.”

British Airway’s Interactive Billboard

Anyone who has squeezed into an airplane seat recently or been delayed in an airport knows that air travel has lost a bit of its romance. British Airways’ billboard wanted to rekindle it. It used data on flight paths to create a digital billboard where a child would appear and point upward excitedly when a plane passed by. This is part of Google’s exhibit to make a point about the creative power of data.

Coke's Huggable Machine and Molson's Passport Fridge

The vending machine that gave out Coca-Cola in exchange for hugging the machine, and the fridge that dispensed beer when passers-by placed a Canadian passport in its scanner, were not Google inventions. But Google is using them in its exhibit to get marketers thinking about the kind of invention that the tech company could help with. As the definition of advertising expands, and more companies turn to inventions that create experiences people want to share (and therefore promote on a brand’s behalf,) Google wants to be part of that development.

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