Hey, Times Square! I'm Google+. Please notice me

Abraham Lincoln may have saved the nation, but "Lincoln" can't rescue an attempted online-offline promotion for Google+ and Google Play in Manhattan.

A Google+ chat between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Steven Spielberg struggled to compete for attention in Times Square last night.

NEW YORK -- Google is the big cheese in online advertisement, but offline, the search company still has a few things to learn.

Last night, Google took to one of the many jumbo screens in Times Square to promote the upcoming biopic "Lincoln," as well as Google+ Hangout, the video-chat service.

Sadly for Google, not even Steven Spielberg, the director of "Lincoln" and America's premier storyteller, could get passers-by to take notice. After the trailer for "Lincoln" made its debut on Google+ online, Spielberg and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt took part in a video chat with random fans via Google+ Hangout, and the conversation was beamed onto a huge video screen. But there was no audio, and those in Times Square who did look up were forced to read subtitles.

Times Square is the Indianapolis Speedway of billboard advertising. The competition for attention -- all the neon, flashing logos, flickering video images of half-naked models -- can make you feel as though you're walking through a pinball machine. A photo of Daniel Day-Lewis dressed as Abraham Lincoln, accompanied by live video of Spielberg and Gordon-Levitt sitting down for an inaudible chat, didn't stand out much.

Google is really trying to get the word out that it offers top movies for rent and, as first reported by CNET, also sells movies via Google Play. The company is also trying to shed "ghost town" image acquired by Google+.

Google's Times Square promo does get an A for effort, at least. Lots of companies have tried online-offline promotions and they typically fail. The Web is a solitary experience for most people -- just you and your computer. It's hard to recreate that experience in someplace like Times Square. Judging by the comments, however, the online part of the "Lincoln" promotion seemed to draw far more attention.

A search engine ad battle took place near Time Square last night. Here, Ask.com makes a subway car appear to be a library to get its message across. Greg Sandoval/CNET

As for offline advertising, Ask.com last night seemed to have taken a better tack than Google, its much larger rival in Web search. On the S subway train, which leads into Times Square, Ask.com redecorated the inside of each car using decals to make the walls appear lined with books and the seats appear cushioned. The cars looked like the inside of a library, and subway riders seemed tickled by the effect.

Ask.com scattered a few simple messages in the car: "Where do over 100 million people find answers they can trust...Ask."

 

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