How Google is beating Apple in the fight for emotions

It used to be that Apple was the pre-eminent brand for human emotional involvement. Now Google is trying to claim that territory for itself.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read
Are you feeling it? Google/YouTube Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You may well have been having conflicted feelings over the last couple of years.

On the one hand, you know that Google is, at its core, an engineering company whose aim is to get your hands off the steering wheel and implant its search engine into your brain.

On the other, you're finding yourself feeling rather warm about Google, as if whatever the company says ultimately sounds mellifluous -- even if, at heart, it's menacing to your very being.

There's a reason for this. A company that once derided advertising as something beneath dwarf-tossing has embraced various facets of it, in order to make itself seem far warmer and more human.

Think of the doodles, which pop up at unexpected time to celebrate bizarre, quirky and often humorous anniversaries. They're involving, amusing and even educative. You love them, don't you?

Then there's Google's sudden and widespread embrace of conventional advertising. You know, the things that Eric Schmidt once referred to as "a video."

Three years ago, an ad called "Parisian Love" ran during the Super Bowl. At the time, Google advertising during the Super Bowl was as bizarre as Facebook respecting your privacy.

This warm and lovely ad seemed to give Google the confidence to encroach on what had, until then, been Apple's territory. For all the starkly white-backgrounded ads that Apple had run over the years for its products, Cupertino was always extremely adept at heartstring-tugging.

From "Here's To The Crazy Ones" to the iPhone 4's Face Time ad, Apple knew that if it was going to depict people at all, the residual feeling had to be like someone massaging you with warm whiskey and oil that smells of almonds.

In recent times, however, Apple hasn't been as sure with its heart.

The most glaring example of this is its recent "Designed by Apple in California" campaign. Here, it isn't clear whether Apple wants you to feel good about your life -- or about choosing Apple products -- or whether Apple wants to boast about just how wonderful Apple is.

The words "this is what matters" weren't juxtaposed with images of newborn babies. Instead, what suddenly mattered was "the experience of a product."

In this ad, we even saw a Caucasian man in an Asian restaurant ignoring all the locals around him, choosing instead to indulge in food porn with his iPad.

Meanwhile, Google continued on a determined campaign simply to be liked -- and perhaps one day loved.

For its own line of products, it didn't mock other brands. It simply couched itself in humanity. The best example of this was last year's Google Chrome ad entitled "Jess Time," in which a father and daughter try to get over the loss of mother and wife. It was beautiful and moving.

Its ads for Nexus always rely on expressing human warmth. This year's Nexus 4 campaign offered people and happiness all around the world. Cliched, perhaps. But cuddly all the same.

For the Nexus 7, Google gave us the charming teen with braces, who uses Google products to learn how to speak in public without a stutter.

This week, the company launched the Nexus 5 with another ad designed solely to make you feel good and teary.

Even in launching Google Glass, the company hasn't taken a mountain view and condescended. Instead, it launched a Web site and video that are very much focused on, quite literally, "how it feels."

While all this has been happening, Apple advertized Photo-Neurosis-- the desperate need to photograph every single thing you ever see -- while boasting that "every day, more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera." It's all a little schizoid.

Google's no saint, of course. It's using its Motorola brand to heartily pinch Apple's various cheeks.

And it's not as if Apple doesn't have a considerable residue of emotional goodwill, built by years of excellent human-focused design and advertising.

But Google seems very determined to wrest warm feelings from Apple, and to some degree it's winning. Apple has seemed, at times, to represent the big and the bad, while Google poses as your best, most loyal and heartfelt friend.

There's reality distortion for you.