Musings on the iPhone, Google and Brand Identity Part 2

In Part 1 I proposed the theory that Apple is in the business of selling a branded lifestyle, rather than any specific products. And that it is that very fact that causes the extreme reactions from the nerdistani community whenever Apple does something that the average nerd considers to be “wrong.” In the course of discussing this, I noted that Google also sells a brand, and implied that they actually do a better job of doing so; at least when considering the nerd market. In this part I am going to expound on that point.

To understand how Google manipulates the nerd market, first we have to examine what exactly it is that Google sells. In the case of Apple, this question has an “obvious” answer. If you asked any random monkey on the street, “what does Apple sell?” they would answer with some variation of “computers,” “iPods” or the like. If you were to ask the same question, but substituting “Google” for “Apple” I don’t think that you would get nearly the same response.

So, let’s examine the question. What exactly is it that Google sells?

Do they sell:

Of course, the answer to all of the above are “no” even though these are products that Google offers (and I’m well aware that Google does actually sell these services in some instances, but I would argue that those instances make up for an infitesimally small amount of Google’s revenue).

What Google sells is advertising, a fact made blindingly obvious by its acquisition of DoubleClick. Think about it; almost every page that you see while using a Google service has an advertisement embeded in it somewhere. And, in a stroke of pure brilliance, Google doesn’t even have to put the effort into detemrining which ad you see. It’s all driven by you; from the keywords you search on to the contents of your email.

To be clear, for the purposes of this essay, I’m not ataching a value jusgement to that fact. If you want to read some criticisms of Google I suggest going to Google Watch. I’m not going to get into that here. Ask yourself though, in the mind of the typical nerd, doesn’t the fact that Google derives the bulk of its revenue from advertising make it a horrible company. I mean this is the industry that brought us the pop-up advertisement for Cthullu’s sake!

Here’s the way I see it. The reason why Google gets a free pass from a large part of the population of Neristan is the very same reason that Apple is constantly getting its balls busted by the same people. Google is also selling a brand, and the brand that they are selling is also “cool;” but it’s nerd cool. Google has gone out of its way to embrace the nerd community. From things like a corporate mantra of “don’t be evil,” to things like encouraging their developers to work on Open Source projects; Google has spoken to the values that nerds embrace. At the same time they brilliantly produce services that have an Apple-like sense of simplcity and design. I may not be a fan of Google, but I do respect them.

So, when faced with critisicms such as those at Google Watch, your average nerd is more likely to say “well Google is one of us, so we trust them,” then to whip out the pitchforks and class-action lawsuits. Really, it all boils down to how we identify with each company. Apple disappoints nerds, so they have a love-hate relationship; and Google reassures nerds, so they get a pass.