Anti-Google Graffiti, Steve Martin Joke: Signs Perceptions Of Google Changing For Worse?

Is Google, which has largely enjoyed a reputation as a trustworthy, wacky and fun company now gaining a new reputation, as something to be feared? When comedian Steve Martin pokes at your privacy policy, when anti-Google graffiti starts turning up and Google “conspiracies” get mentioned on lovable Zooey Deschanel’s “New Girl” sitcom, maybe something’s up.

To Date, The Public Loves Google

No doubt, many in the technosphere or with media companies have long viewed Google as a company to be wary of, if not outright feared. But that fear simply hasn’t been reflected among people in general. Consider a few data points:

  • 2007, Google was rated as the most favorite brand by internet users in a JupiterResearch study
  • 2008, Google gets top brand spot in the UK’s Superbrands survey
  • 2010, Google was fourth in an Interbrand survey
  • 2011, Google’s took the top spot and a AAA+ “brand rating” in a list maintained by Brand Finance
  • 2011, Google was the second-most popular brand (Apple was first) in a “brand desire” survey run by M&C Saatchi/Clear
  • 2011, Google was named the most reputable corporation in the US by Harris Interactive

Look again at that last data point. It’s from a long-standing survey from Harris Interactive, run for 12 years in a row, that involved over 30,000 people. Google was deemed the most reputable company.

One part of of the survey found Google ranking in the top five for social responsibility, products & services, vision & leadership, financial performance and workplace environment:

Another part of the survey ranked it in the top ten for excellent customer service and ethical standards:

Are The Times Changing?

Given this, what to make of this graffiti (OK, graffito, picture used with permission) that paidContent writer Jeff Roberts spotted on a bridge connecting Brooklyn and Queens:

Is it indeed a sign-of-the-times, reflecting changing public perceptions about Google?

A Particularly Bad Month

We won’t really know until we see more brand surveys come out later this year. The Harris Interactive one will be especially interesting to watch. While it was released in 2011 — and was positioned as the “2011″ report, it really measured reputation for 2010.

Last year, Google saw itself basically put on trial in front of a US Senate sub-committee. Last year, Google had settlements with the FTC over privacy and allegations of assisting with illegal drug sales.

This past month has been one of the worse, I’d say, that Google has ever seen. It found itself penalizing its Chrome browser because of an ad campaign that violated its own guidelines. It was embroiled in a controversy that it was raiding the listings of a Kenya business directory.

The Search Plus Your World launch is still reverberating with accusations that Google is favoring itself. Last week’s announced privacy policy changes have caused Google to get a letter from US congressional representatives and prompted a “set the record straight” post from the company.

A Wild & Crazy Tweet?

But really, perhaps more damning about the privacy policy change was this tweet from comedian Steve Martin:

“Uploaded photo of myself in Speedo to comply with Google’s new privacy policy,” Martin jokes.

Is it really a slam against Google? Just some good-natured fun? Who knows. Maybe Steve Martin loves Google. But I think there’s little debate that Google probably doesn’t find it a success to have its new privacy policy the butt of any joke.

I Googled “Google Conspiracy Thing”

That leads me to New Girl, the new Fox show starring Zooey Deschanel. I was struck how in a recent episode, when trying to get her roommate Nick to behave, Deschanel’s character Jess begged him not to talk about politics, or small business loans or the “Google conspiracy thing.”

There was a time when Google was mentioned in TV shows in the way you’d expect, as a great way for people to find things. Characters talked about “googling” something. Now we’ve got New Girl talking about conspiracies or Dexter suggesting that Google’s search results are “five minutes ago” and full of crud:

YouTube Preview Image

Maybe none of these are an indicator that public perception itself is changing. Certainly it doesn’t help Google to have Hollywood, which backed the anti-piracy bills of SOPA & PIPA, now viewing the company with even more anger after Google pushed to hard against those bills.

As I said, it’ll be interesting to watch the future studies that come out — as well as what we might be seeing in popular entertainment and the word-on-the-street. Will Google’s perception with people in generally really change for the worse?

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features & Analysis | Google: Business Issues | Google: Legal | Google: Marketing | Top News


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Pixelrage

    Looking scummy to the public (privacy issues) + looking scummy to affiliates & small businesses (Google Panda), they’re really batting a thousand…

  • fjpoblam

    Resistance is futile

  • reifentyres

    Very Nice & Useful Article…

    I like that Article…

  • Lorraine Lee

    I suppose for a marketing trade rag, showing surprise at there being anything suspect in Google’s reputation is part of editorial policy.  To those of us outside the marketing trade, marketing in general looks a little spooky.  This has been the case since long before Google’s unified “privacy” policy, and long before the internet itself, as evidenced by works by the likes of Vance Packard and Wilson Bryan Key over the years.  I don’t think very many people believes the Google share price went from IPO to half a kilobuck overnight on sponsored results alone.  There’s got to be something very impressive inside the black box.  But some suspect that data mining in service to marketing is facing diminishing returns:

    “Algorithms trawling for greater targeting power on the part of
    advertisers are jumping at comparatively trivial increases in efficiency
    with serious diminishing returns. (And insofar as new understandings
    might inform actual development/policy wouldn’t that a good thing?)
    Further, taken in a broad view, the issues of complexity to such
    datatrawling and analysis leans to the favor of consumers because
    there’s simply far more of us than there are sellers. Relatively simple
    advances in consumer analysis of sellers would drastically turn the
    tables against advertisers and corporate bargaining advantage in
    general.  In such light their current golden age of analysis is but one
    last rich gasp.”

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