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From Search bar to Smartphone

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Google has been a pioneer since 1998, when it first organised the clutter of the internet through a simple iconic search bar. Since then, it’s continued to innovate, improve, and streamline processes in countless categories, from email to maps to entertainment and beyond. 

In 2016, Google took on one of its biggest challenges yet: the competitive smartphone market, dominated by the behemoths Samsung and Apple. Becoming a credible third player seemed like an insurmountable goal. To make the impossible possible, it had to raise awareness of the new Pixel smartphone among the young, the aspiring, the curious and optimistic. 

Samsung and Apple had 72% of the premium smartphone market covered at the time of Pixel’s launch. Google needed to act like a challenger.  

With rumours of tepid iPhone 7 updates and news of explosive Samsung smartphone batteries, the audience and environment was ripe for a change. PHD sought to disrupt Apple’s annual Fall announcement with a tease of what was to come from Google. It would pique premium smartphone users’ curiosity about a new option, hopefully making them think twice before upgrading to the new iPhone.   


The agency's strategy was to drive excitement during a tease period, then reveal the Pixel through creative and media placements. The strategy was as straightforward as Google’s search tool. In fact, the search bar was the creative concept. 

In the image, the bar is blank, with only the Google G logo and “October 4, 2016” below. 


Before the launch, consumers encountered this striking (non-)image everywhere: high impact OOH on 50+ screens across the US; a tease message across all major networks; custom-built installations that framed well-known vistas around the world. Throughout, it used search to direct curious consumers to a site teasing Google’s news. On October 4, Google announced the Pixel and media, from online video to display to OOH, transformed from the search bar to images of the new device.   

It owned the news cycle on launch day, reaching influential readers of the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and USA Today in print and online, with a global digital takeover of The Guardian. In the New York Times, it ran a full-colour, eight-page wrap and the largest execution NYT has on the market. In the digital version of the paper, it ran the inaugural ad in the DBM “flex frame” format. PHD conducted the first-ever Snapchat takeover and social feed domination, reaching 42% of US millennials in 24 hours. It was innovating not only in the world of smartphones, but also in the advertising world. 

Media remained ubiquitous. The agency used on-the-ground and mobile media to promote pop-up stores in key markets. High-profile OOH units displayed the Pixel throughout NYC, including Time Square’s Nasdaq Reuters in the heart of the city. It blanketed the Internet via social and display -- with a custom site redesign on Mashable -- and executed the largest-ever video buy on Google Preferred.   


In three months, the campaign surpassed goals as almost half the planet was aware that Google had a phone (47% overall, 52% of the target audience of young adults) and almost a quarter considered buying it. Due to its strategy and Google’s pioneering ethos, the company once known only for search added a new moniker to its image: smartphone maker. 

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