Read between the lines: Google and TBWA

Last week, I moderated a Sapient-sponsored panel discussion on the state of the marketing organization.  At the same event, there was a session described as simply "Andy Berndt, Managing Director, Creative Lab, Google."  If you recall, this executive appointment caused quite a bit of speculation that Google might have plans to start their own ad agency, which has been repeatedly denied by the firm and best summed up by this statement:  "It would be mathematically impossible for us to get into that business."

Nevertheless, I was looking forward to the discussion to hear what exactly what happens at the Google Creative Lab (which sounds really cool, especially if you think about analogies like Nike Lab) in a discussion that would be facilitated by Tom Carroll of TBWA.  What came out of it was a half hour of dead air spots and the delusions of a traditional agency trying its best to sound digital.

OK so what IS the Google Creative Lab?  Someone from the audience actually asked this question after Berndt and Carroll had wandered from topic to topic for about 15 minutes.  The answer:

"an internal creative and marketing resource at Google to help manage the brand — our only client is Google."

To elaborate:  "we own the Google brand."  "We work on partnerships, brand-defining stuff."  "We work with agencies on more complex stuff."

OK fair enough.  So the audience is primarily client-side marketing leaders.  They can’t hire the Creative Lab; maybe they could learn lessons from the inside then, which Abbey Klaassen at Ad Age summarized.

Other than that, I found the most value in what was being said on stage and the insight between the lines…


  • "Everyone is in a panic about digital.  Stop panicking!"  "Take a deep breath, we’ll figure it out.  No one has the secret."
  • “People say it’s a new world.  No it’s not, it’s the same world evolving.”
  • “I wish I was 25 because then I would understand more.”
  • “Right before Christmas, our Chief Digital Officer said let’s get everyone in the company on Facebook.  I wish she had kept me off of it.”
  • "We did an asthma website for kids to show how to learn inhalers.  Like a Webkinz-type thing.  These are 26-year old kids.  They were getting a far deeper connection to the brand.  A more enclosed space between people, everyone is better off."


  • “Google is still a founder-driven company.  Engineers are usually not crazy about marketing people; taking soundbites and pieces where the company comes from leads to interesting things.  ‘Organizing the world’s information’ is the world’s largest hack – a display of ability.  It’s an amazing creative space.  The core behind that is an almost Quixotic, a bold, moonshot type of spirit that’s at the center – it’s less competitive than sort of aspirational.  That takes a lot of communication and translation to people who don’t live at the center of that community.”
  • “The vision of the brand is to help people remember what they enjoy about the emotion of Google.”

Hey I wish I was 25 again too because I would have a higher vertical leap and a less receded hairline.  But you don’t have to be young to understand digital.  And agencies – do you think Google hired one of the world’s top ad execs to create internal feel-good campaigns?  Do you sense a bit of frustration brewing in the Lab?

[The panel also demonstrated the result of what happens when the people
on stage are unprepared for a discussion, which is why some of those statements may have come out so unpolished.  Sure, anyone can talk for 30
minutes, but if you want to say something interesting – or not – you need to give
it some forethought.  If you need tips, check out these posts by Guy
Kawasaki on moderating and participating.]