City Desk

How Google Used Mike Allen to Zing Facebook

The text ads that run every day in Politico's Playbook tend to fall into one of two categories.

There are the general "We're an honorable business!" messages, run by corporations like Microsoft ("we're committed to providing the technology people need to live and work creatively and productively"), McDonald's ("when we reduced the trans fats in our fries, we wanted to do it right. In the end, we reduced them to 0 grams per serving"), or Intel ("Our economic future depends on innovation and investment"). Presumably those businesses figure the $15,000 a week it costs to sponsor Mike Allen's morning musings is a good way to build up their reputation with policymaker types, a kind of investment in brand equity inside the Beltway.

And then there are the specific "Washington, do our bidding!" messages. Like one recently by Politico corporate cousin NewsChannel 8, opposing the Comcast/NBC merger: "The Comcast/NBC monopoly would present serious problems for local news in communities across our country. Washington’s decision makers must resist the pressure from Comcast and take the necessary time to carefully review this controversial merger to protect the public interest." Or from the Catfish Farmers of America: "Congress voted more than 20 months ago to provide greater protections for American consumers by moving inspection of ALL catfish — imported and domestic — from FDA to USDA, with its tougher safety standards. We’re still waiting."

The ad that ran in Playbook this week, though, was something else entirely—a shot across the bow of a rival. You just had to look closely to see it.

The morning digests this week were sponsored by Google. At first, the message seemed fairly bland: "When you’re online, you should be in control. With Google Privacy Tools you can see and manage the information you share with us." But the timing was interesting—Google's ad ran the week The Social Network, the new movie that's critical of Facebook, opened, sparking quite a bit of discussion about what the changes Facebook had wrought on modern society and culture. Those changes include, of course, the sharing of users' data with partners and advertisers who support Facebook. (Of course, Google stockpiles a tremendous amount of data itself. Take me, for example: My City Paper e-mail, and my personal e-mail, both use Gmail; I sync my address book between my computer and my BlackBerry with a Google program; I give out my Google Voice number as my cell phone number, so Sergey Brin and Co. generally know who's calling me and when. Google could probably reconstruct my life and habits pretty accurately if it wanted, even if it doesn't have the photos and other personal info I've given Facebook. But the ad wants you not to worry about any of that.)

In that light, the contrast Google was aiming for was hard to miss: Facebook may tell all your friends which Washington Post stories you've read, but Google won't. Pretty clever, isn't it?

Photo by reubenaingber via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

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  • eric

    It's either an incredibly slow news day or you have entirely too much time on your hands.

  • Paul

    Um. What was this article about? Am craving an inverted pyramid.