If you were watching the Super Bowl last night, there's a good chance you weren't there for the game. That doesn't mean it wasn't a good game. It was. But, if you're like a lot of people, it was what you saw between the plays that was even more entertaining. The Super Bowl ads. There were a lot of great ads, and some that were rather strange. (Um Snickers is going to save the world with a giant hole?)
Some ads were controversial, and some were just funny. Google's ad, on the other hand, managed to be both beautiful and terrible at the same time, and it's the perfect example of the problem we face as tech companies play a larger role in our lives. They add to our lives in powerful ways, while at the same time stripping us of our privacy and ability to control our personal information.
On the one hand, the ad was beautiful. In fact, Google has a history of telling compelling stories simply by featuring its search products. I commented on Twitter that it was the first 9 minutes of Up if Google had done it in 60 seconds. If you've never seen Up you have no idea what I mean, and you should stop reading this, and go watch it. Seriously, it's the greatest love story ever told in a movie, and it doesn't even use words.
Yes, very well done. Impactful. But, continuing to normalize feeding all of our personal information into a gigantic ad machine exploiting us for profit in increasingly creepy ways. To me? It's super gross.-- Jonathan LaCour (@cleverdevil) February 3, 2020
Google's version wasn't quite at that level, but there was something powerful about an elderly man desperately wanting to remember his wife Loretta. We don't know if Loretta is gone or not, but clearly the man, who we only see in photos shown in response to his commands to Google Assistant, wants to be sure that he never forgets.
The premise is that Google can help you remember things, even when you have a hard time doing it on your own. And it showed that while pulling on our heartstrings. To that end it was certainly a success for the company.
But, do we really want to glorify the idea that a tech company has this much information about us? Or that we've become this dependent on technology?
There is a growing tension is between using technology to enhance our lives in ways that weren't possible, without giving up control over our own personal information. This ad highlights exactly how ingrained companies like Google and Facebook have become in our lives, and how much they really know about us.
For many people, Google has their photos, their calendar, their contact list, their search and navigation history, and probably their emails. Piecing all of those together can lead to super helpful solutions, but it also represents an enormous risk. Google isn't gathering all of that information just to be helpful. It does it because organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible is extremely profitable.
Much of that information is yours and mine, and Google has become extraordinarily good at using it to know more about us than even the people closest to us. It's unlikely your friends or your spouse know as much about what you do online as Google. (Let that sink in.) And Google uses that information to target you with advertisements, which has made it worth over a trillion dollars.
When you think about it that way, it's a scarier story. And scary stories don't make for very nice Super Bowl ads.