The Washington Post

Google’s ‘Project Re:Brief’: Rethinking web advertising

Look around this page. Online advertising — like the banners you see above and to the right of this post — is usually pretty simple: An image, some animation, and an invitation to click through for more information.

("Hilltop" Coca-Cola ad/Via YouTube)

In an attempt to improve the digital ad space, Google partnered with four brands to challenge them to make web advertising better in a campaign they’re calling “Project Re:Brief. ” They’ve brought in the people who created some of the most iconic commercials a generation ago — the Coca-Cola “Hilltop” campaign, the Volvo “Drive It Like You Hate It” campaign, the Alka Seltzer “I Can’t Believe I Ate The Whole Thing” campaign and Avis’ “We Try Harder” campaign — to re-imagine them for a contemporary audience, which uses technology that has passed many of the old marketers by.

Harvey Gabor, who created the famous “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” song advertisement, says in a documentary on the project that he barely uses Google — only for e-mail, “and to look up all my aches and pains and what disease I think I probably have and am gonna die from.”

With a team of Google employees, he brings the idea of buying the world a Coke to life by installing interactive vending machines in select cities around the world, allowing people to send messages and Cokes to other cities.

The Volvo ad became a mobile app that tells the story of one man’s two million-mile car, and the Alka-Seltzer and Avis ads are forthcoming.

With a project like this, it’s easy to forget that you’re watching an ad about an ad — both for Google and for the partnered brand. Instead, it feels like a documentary, and you’re rooting for the feisty old retirees to affirm the brilliance and timelessness of their prior work. The ads that they’ve designed don’t feel like ads, either.

The question is whether or not slick and interactive online ads such as these will be able to make web advertising as prestigious as television advertising. The Google project will encourage companies to take advantage of technology to harness the viral energy of the web and direct it towards their brands, but it won’t give them a good estimate of the cost or hours needed for such work: The New York Times notes that the entire project was paid for by Google.

Still, if it can encourage advertising different from, say, the much-criticized “Tiny Belly” ads, Google’s project could go a long way towards improving the user experience, and elevating online advertising from mere marketing to something greater: Communication, entertainment — even art.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.


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