Is Google Rebranding or De-branding?

Resolved: People, for whatever reason, tend to view Google as less of a brand and more of a utility.

Suggested reasons: Google is, in fact, utilitarian. It’s under-branded to the extreme, and even its logo is generic.  Before anyone had Google accounts or Gmail, we were already using “google” as a verb.  The lack of flash, the absolute dearth of iconography…the lame font and funny multi-colored name, these things are disarming almost to the point of making you forget that Google wants each and every bit of your personal information even more (perhaps) than Facebook.

Facebook is nothing if not a brand.  Rightly or wrongly, we think we get what Mark Zuckerberg is all about, and that necessarily flavors our understanding of his company’s ethics, ambition, and culture.

I said last week that when I’m using Google+, I don’t feel like I’m in some proprietary fishbowl circa 1990s AOL.  Google looks and acts like a utility, and we’ve come to think of access to what Google does best (search) as precisely that.  Facebook is a fishbowl by design, and Zuckerberg’s quest to keep you in/on Facebook for all your webly needs shows that he’s bound and determined to validate and more effectively monetize Steve Case’s old vision. Maybe Google+ does, as Zuckerberg claims, validate Facebook’s (old) vision, but only in terms of ambition.  Plus is built with the relationships grown-ups have in mind, and Facebook was built as a college network.  It has adapted over the years to fit the needs of adults, but it still feels like your last visit to the pediatrician.  Early adopters are hitting 30 and needing a social network that’s intuitive and easily customizable, something more akin to real-world connections than “friending” and more useful and dynamic than boring old LinkedIn.

Last week we learned that Google will retire the Blogger and Picasa brands as they begin to roll those services into Plus.  Is everyone starting to understand that Google+ is Google, and Google is Google+?  Blogger.com is the epitome if Web2.0 branding, and if you’re not already using Picasa, it just feels like another thing.  So Google is rolling these brands into itself, making them more useful and more generic than they’ve ever been.  The lighter the brand recognition, the more likely we are to trust you with our data.  Silly, isn’t it, given Google’s size, influence, and sometimes-faltering commitment to publicly stated values?  Sure is.  But it’s also true.

Don’t think so?  Check out Delloitte’s recent study proving that we already hate branded apps.  While Facebook is busy becoming the largest branded app in history, Google is de-branding everything but YouTube (which also doesn’t feel like a brand).  Interesting, isn’t it?

The End of the Cold War as Summated by “Brands of the World”

When deep space exploration ramps up, it’ll be the corporations that name everything: the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks. – Fight Club

We all know that companies (and specifically, the economic polices set forth by mercantilism) played a huge part in the founding of European America.  It’s probably safe to assume with The Narrator that when they run out of stadiums, giant companies will, indeed, have a hand in naming the stars in the next push of industrial expansion.  Behold, friends, The Facebook Nebula.

There’s a reason “branding” has become such a ubiquitous noun-verb in recent years, and it’s obviously tied to our increasing consumption of dynamic visual media.  In a nifty meta-critical move, sites like Brand New and Brands of the World help we consumerist natives remember our lives in corporate logos even as they help curate (you knew it was coming) good and bad design features from which emerging and veteran creatives can draw inspiration or caution.

I’m working on a new infographic for the blog that I hope to put up later today.  During my research, I was struck by the succinct political history implicit in what’s going on here:

Put your shoe on, Nikita.

 

Considered in light of the grist-milling  Soviet system, “designer: unknown” and “contributor: unknown” become rather chilling political statements.  “Status: Obsolete” heralds the world we still live in:  Soviet weapons and technology still unaccounted for, Soviet scientists still off the grid, regional economies still shaky, but also millions and millions of people more free; in some places, truly, in others by comparison and in degree.  Imperfect, even dangerous as all of this is, we’re reminded again and again that people cognizant of their dignity as human beings will rise to demand that dignity recognized, that sovereignty civilly reckoned with if not yet fully honored.

The CCCP’s obsolescence was as far from inevitable as is the rise of true freedom in Russia even now.  Consider all that remains to be seen as revolution moves through North Africa and possibly beyond.  We have seen freedom ramp up, and if and when it coalesces into free societies and governments, it will be the people that name everything: Free Egypt, Free Tunisia, Free Libya.  Free Iran. What might these emerging societies teach us about our own bondage to the Dutch West India Companies of our day, and to entrenched political attitudes that keep us from the business of prudent, engaged, informed civil life? Might this be the end of the world as we know it?  Let’s hope.

 

Martian Starbucks by firexbrat via Flickr.