Watch some of the earliest marketing efforts for Google Chrome and there is no way you’d predict that some years later, chief marketing officer Lorraine Twohill would be walking onstage to accept Marketer of the Year honors at the 2018 Cannes Lions. Twohill, who was named to the company’s top marketing spot in 2009, is just the second female executive to accept the award in its 25-year history.
“When I took over, frankly, marketing was, ‘We have to launch a new product, here’s a blog post, and here is a video of the product manager explaining the features, please watch the video,'” says Twohill. “That was the formula. So we’ve come a long way.”
Twohill played a video montage chronicling the brand’s marketing journey so far, and says that while many point to the 2010 Super Bowl spot “Parisian Love” as the brand’s advertising milestone, the biggest single turning point came a year later, with 2011’s “Dear Sophie,” and its larger “The Web Is What You Make Of It” campaign.
“In the early days, we had a Chrome digital-only campaign, which was about three things: safety, simplicity, and speed. Very rational,” says Twohill. “That did get us so far, but no one gets out of bed in the morning and says, ‘I need a new browser.’ What changed the game for us was to go out and create ‘The web is what you make of it,’ which is essentially a brand campaign about people using the web to make their lives better, with stories like ‘Dear Sophie.’ It’s as big a milestone as ‘Parisian Love,’ at least internally. It really paved the way for us to do more of that kind of work.”
As one of the largest and most influential brands in the world, it’s not often that Google can be described as an underdog. But in the smart speaker and voice-activated assistant race, it’s been playing catch up to market leader Amazon. Twohill says she relishes the role.
“We love being the challenger brand,” she says. “We’re hungry. From a marketing point of view, it’s far more fun, because you can see the impact. You’re up against this huge company, they’re out the door first and ahead of us, but we’re getting there. It’s a whole new category that’s still being established. We’re fighting for every user, and that’s super exciting.”
Lately, the brand has been pushing its Google Assistant with the “Make Google Do It” campaign, a less emotional, more tongue-in-cheek approach. “We wanted it to feel real—we tend not to use actors. It feels very UGC, because it typically actually is,” says Twohill. “We find clips, then race to get the permissions. We’re scrappy that way.”
The brand’s most-viewed ad ever is actually one of its newest, created for International Women’s Day back in March. Twohill says it’s a perfect reflection of the brand’s optimistic outlook, and to expect more work like this, including a new film for International First Responders Day in September. “We just have a unique view on the world through these search queries,” she says. “I’m very passionate about using our voice to shine a light on the good of humanity.”
Ask anyone about the current state of user data privacy, and you’ll likely get a different take on humanity, particularly around how ad giants like Google and Facebook are dealing with the issue. Twohill says the company has been making great progress over the last few years in developing tools to give users greater control over their data, but that it’s her team’s job to shine a light on it to make sure people know them.
“It’s our responsibility and obligation to help them understand what we do with their data, and give them controls over it,” says Twohill. “Five years ago, I really started engaging a lot more on this, and as a company we started looking at how we can shine a brighter light on our features and controls, to make it easier for people. You build trust through actions, not words.”
Google posts notices about privacy settings on its homepage regularly, which in terms of reach is like the Super Bowl every single day. Its security check-up has been used 800 million times, and it’s had 2 billion visits to the My Account sites. The company also launched digital well-being initiatives earlier this year. Still, Twohill sees plenty of room for improvement.
“We’re out talking about these things because they’re features a lot of people don’t know about, even if some of them have existed for a while,” she says. “We have a lot of very good tools around these issues, but we’re not doing a good enough job in telling folks about it. It’s not enough to build it if it’s not easily discoverable.”