It was with great anticipation that Illuminant’s digital communications team logged onto YouTube today, to see Google officially show its Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” operating system for tablet computers. We are, after all, deeply interested in delivering compelling communications and messaging to audiences within China, and Android is absolutely killing it for market-share in the mainland.
We loved the technology that was presented, but we hated the presentation.
In the spirit of writing an open letter to a company that we respect and admire, we’d like to present our opinions. We’ve applied the Illuminant Methodology (actually, our special events subset of the methodology) to this critique.
Google events are different from Apple events, but the two can be compared because they share many elements
Internally, we agreed that haven’t yet seen a Google event done with the polish and tactical implementation deserving of a technology leader. In other words, we think that Google presentations are generally poor, not only in comparison to Apple’s legendary and perfectly stage-managed keynotes, but also to the average corporate event that we and our colleague SME agencies regularly stage all around the world.
We guess that Google would say that they’re not trying to copy Apple (or Microsoft, for that matter) but the fact remains that Google does borrow some techniques from these renowned presenters, so we believe that it is fair to critique this top tier of technology leaders on an even playing field.
Google’s presentation was streamed live over YouTube and started promptly on time at 10am US Pacific Time.
The pre-event music was generic Space Age synthesizer music with New Age strings and voices. It could have been pulled from a B-grade science fiction space opera. We take issue with it because it lacked any conceptual soundness for the event that was about to start.
Think about it: Google is formally showing, for the first time, the world’s leading contender for an “iPad killer”. Media, vendor and consumer interest is at its absolute peak — dozens of tablet computers with “Honeycomb” were announced at the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show only two weeks ago. Leading media organizations have been invited to the event, and countless other key influencers and early adopters have logged into YouTube to watch the event live. And what music is used to build pre-game anticipation and positive emotions in the hearts of the audience? Generic new age synthesizer dross.
We would have played something with wit and conceptual soundness. Something to make the audience smile and warm up to the big news. Perhaps 1965′s “Honeycomb” by the great Jimmy Rodgers.
Andy Rubin’s opening comments
Google’s VP of Engineering, Andy Rubin, came onto the small stage and delivered some good early remarks. Andy is a highly respected leader in mobile operating systems — he founded the Android OS after leaving Danger, Inc (of Hiptop/Sidekick fame). Andy Rubin is the father of the world most popular smartphone platform.
We thought that Andy’s strongest comment was his view that Google is “the shephard” of the rich and diverse ecosystem of Android device manufacturers and software developers.
Frankly though, when we apply the Illuminant Methodology, we feel that Andy should have (and deserves to) speak in somewhat more glowing terms about his baby. Android is a wonder of engineering and marketing. The mobile OS has overtaken every other competitor — including Apple’s iOS and Blackberry — as the number one smartphone operating system in the USA. It has been adopted by practically every smartphone manufacturer, it has reinvigorated vendors long absent from smartphones and PDAs, and it has enabled plucky newcomers to enter the burgeoning market.
With this in mind, we would have advised Andy to present some of Google’s most recent numbers, setting the stage for Honeycomb to become the dominant tablet computer platform, as it has for the smartphone platform.
Alas, Andy handed over to Hugo Barra, Google Product Management Director for Android without any such statements. It was a somewhat anti-climactic throw, having set up no anticipation or excitement.
Hugo Barra’s comments
Hugo’s choice of dress was curious. Dressed in a simple woolen pullover, we were perplexed that the most notable element of his outfit was the prominent BOSS logo on his sweater’s breast. “Why”, we wondered, “isn’t he sporting some kind of Android logo — perhaps the funky new “Honeycomb bee” Google is using to promote the tablet OS… or at least a Google shirt?”
Then the penny dropped: Hugo Boss. The guy’s name is Hugo. He likes to wear Hugo Boss.
Umm, not all that witty, Hugo. You missed an opportunity to add brand equity to Android Honeycomb. You distracted your audience by making them think about a German menswear brand. You see, its really, really important to demonstrate to your audience that you’re 100% committed to your message. By committing a sin of omission, you left your audience in doubt (even if subconsciously) of your commitment to Android and Google. In the Illuminant Methodology, this is committing the error of self-indulgence.
Hugo went on to present several key new features of the OS, including a developer’s technology called RenderScript, the new Camera app, and finally the new Music app. Again, we feel there were missed opportunities: the Camera app was demonstrated by taking a blurrycam image of the audience in the room (it looked small!) — much better to have staged a cool photo opportunity. For example, a popular celebrity could have been positioned in the front row, so that images of the celebrity centered in the great-looking Camera app would have been made available for the press to use in their reporting. Alternatively, a large Honeycomb bumblebee might have been unveiled for another good, media friendly image. Instead, we got this:
The Music app is another example of a missed opportunity. News buzz about this Honeycomb event over the last week has centered on two main elements: “Will Google announce the new web Android Market?” and “Will Google announce the new Google Music service?” Thousands of news articles have been written and read on these two buzzworthy questions (companies often “seed” key media partners to build anticipation by hinting at such questions). So when the Music app was announced and demonstrated, the Illuminant team was paying close attention.
Hugo demonstrated the app by playing a few seconds of some Outkast song. Look, we like Outkast as much as the next public relations and strategic communications agency, but how, exactly, was an Outkast song conceptually sound to announce a major new element of a hotly-anticipated competitor to the iTunes empire?
Answer: not at all. It’s just, well, random.
And that, Hugo, was another missed opportunity. We might have suggested “Honeycomb” by Frank Black, former lead vocalist of The Pixies. Heck, it wouldn’t have cost a lot to have Frank Black play the song live in the room, synched up to the recorded version, and shown over a Google video chat session on the demo tablet.
Louis Gump, VP of Mobile for CNN presentation
This was pretty good. Google got a major news organization to show its slick tablet app on the same day that the Apple-Rupert Murdoch collaboration, The Daily was launched in New York.
Extra points awarded because the app is cool: it will be free, and it incorporates CNN iReport (so Honeycomb tablet users can send news reportage directly to CNN editors via the app).
Android Video Chat (or, Who the Hell is Ladykiller?)
The event took a sharp downhill deviation at the point that the highly anticipated Google Video Chat application was announced and demonstrated. A direct response to Apple’s FaceTime, the Google Video Chat application will be the “killer app” for millions of grandmas and corporate workers considering a tablet computer.
In what can only be described as a bizarre and horribly stage-managed sequence, Hugo Barra tapped into the Video Chat application with a flourish, and said something like “Hang on a moment, who is this? Ladykiller? Lets get a videochat with Ladykiller! I wonder who Ladykiller might be???”
Say those words in the voice of The Office’s Michael Scott or David Brent, and you start to grasp the deeply inappropriate tactical communications choice made by setting up a call with, umm, “Ladykiller”.
Okay. So we’re here for the ride. Lets see who “Ladykiller” is.
Hugo Barra: “Umm, sorry guys, Ladykiller isn’t online right now. Lets see if we can get Ladykiller on the Google Talk app. Oh, right, we need to log into Google Talk first…”
“Okay… lets log in… there! Now to get back to Ladykiller! [grinning] Umm, Ladykiller, where are you? Sorry guys, it looks like Ladykiller is still offline. Ladykiller? Hmm… Let me see who else we can talk to. Oh, here’s a dude I work with who’s online. Lets video chat with him! Hey man!”
(Co-worker Dude answers the call in a corridor, while walking. Dude cracks a dumb joke, “Hey Hugo, I’m not Ladykiller, but I’m not bad with the ladies! Ho ho ho!”).
It was a crass exchange and we expect it left the audience underwhelmed. “Who the hell is Ladykiller?” was the take-home from this part of the event, not “Woah! How cool is Android Video Chat!?”
And that is a major PR error.
Ladykiller unmasked! Or was he…
We didn’t count the number of times that “Ladykiller” was mentioned by the presenters after that sequence. We should have: it must have been another 12 times. Certainly the term “Ladykiller” was uttered more than “Android”, “Honeycomb” or “Google”.
Which would have been fine, if his first words on stage weren’t, “I’m Ladykiller.”
Huh? Hugo was trying to get a video chat up with a dude from Disney’s software unit, who was in the front row all the time? Wha…?
Disney Dude’s section of the event closed out with a tight shot of him playing Tap Tap Revenge for, like, about 30 seconds. Not gripping promotional material for Honeycomb Day, we submit.
Apple does guest software demos very well. The presenter rarely is the gameplayer: the actual gameplay is run by a specialist on stage left, leaving the presenter to focus on delivering a tight, well rehearsed set of comments with punch and import. We feel that if Google is planning on using this Apple keynote tactic, they really should go all the way and do it at least as well as Apple does.
Announcing the new Android Market
An interesting and exciting part of the event was the much-rumored unveiling of the new generation Android Market for the web. The previous Android Market (an app store) was very poorly received, so the Android faithful were eagerly predicting that today’s Honeycomb event would mark the release of the new Market. They were not disappointed.
Twitter users immediately started to tweet that OMG! the new Market is live right now! Many early adopters eagerly visited the new site, only to find that the Sign In feature was broken. Many of Android’s most vociferous supporters expressed disbelief that Google would launch the Market with fanfare and allow inevitable logins to be directed to an error page.
The lesson here is that if you’re announcing immediate availability of a product or service, be sure that product or service works according to customer expectations. Our Illuminant Methodology requires us to correctly set audience expectations. We feel that this was the second avoidable embarrassment of the event (and probably caused more negative comments than the Ladykiller fiasco).
Closing the event
It wasn’t exactly a Steve Jobsian “Just one more thing“, but Google was able to pull what it thought would be a rabbit out of its hat at the end of the perplexing event. You see, it turns out that Disney Dude wasn’t really Ladykiller — he was joking!
So here is the big reveal! Google’s presenter fires up Android’s video chat app again and announces that he has Ladykiller on the line!
A sleepy looking guy in a baseball cap pops up on the tablet. “Yo”, he says. “Yo yo yo.”
Ladykiller is Cee Lo Green.
Cee Lo. Wikipedia ‘splains it:
Thomas DeCarlo Callaway (born May 30, 1974), better known by his stage name Cee-Lo Green or simply Cee-Lo, is an American singer, rapper, songwriter, and record producer. He originally came to prominence as a member of the southern hip-hop group Goodie Mob, later launching a critically acclaimed solo career and forming Gnarls Barkley with DJ/producer Danger Mouse.
Among Cee-Lo’s hits are the singles Closet Freak (2002); I’ll Be Around (2003), produced by Timbaland; Crazy (2006), by Gnarls Barkley; and Fuck You (aka Forget You) (2010).
A stiff exchange then ensued between the Google presenter and the rapper, most famous for a charming YouTube ditty called Fuck You. Google guy: “Hey Cee Lo, how you doin’ man?” Cee Lo: “Good man, good, just chillin’ y’know”. Google guy: “Cool, man, cool. You’re Ladykiller!” Cee Lo: “Yeah man, da Ladykiller. Yeah.” Google guy: “Okay man, thanks!! See ya. Peace.” Cee Lo: “Okay man, bye.”
We’ve paraphrased the exchange. But it really was that leaden. And it really was that much of a letdown. And the event then ended, right on that exchange.
What the heck was Google thinking? This represented the final missed opportunity of the day. By leaving the global audience with a hokey teenage-style non-chat with a rapper best known for a profane pop ditty, the professional audience must have been left scratching their heads and asking “why?” when they should have been grooving to the forthcoming Honeycomb products, due to be released in as little as a couple of weeks.