Why Google is going all in on promoting its Pixel 6

The search giant is gearing up for what is reportedly the largest media investment in the company’s history to promote its latest range of Google handsets.

Despite its utter dominance of the software world, Google’s smartphone endeavors have never quite lived up to its reputation. Its range of Pixel phones – though well-reviewed – account for a tiny fraction of the smartphone market, lagging behind rivals Apple and Samsung.

In its most recent earnings call, however, Google chief financial officer Ruth Porat told investors to expect higher-than-usual marketing costs for the rest of the year as it goes all in on promoting its newest range of products: “We expect sales and marketing expenses to be more heavily weighted to the back half of the year in part to support product launches in the holiday season.”

One of those key product launches is of the latest iteration of the Pixel range of smartphones, the Pixel 6. The Pixel range currently accounts for around 2% of the total smartphone market. The lack of traction to date in terms of consumers picking up Google’s handsets could be down to any number of things – being a challenger brand in terms of hardware, or the better brand recognition of its rivals – so going all in on advertising the new phone could be one way to improve share of mind among the public.

Eileen Mannion, vice-president for marketing at Google UK, said: “Smartphone users make trade-offs on brand, price, features – and our goal is to build the right product for the right user at the right cost. Entry users are price sensitive and more willing to trade off features and brand for a great price.

“Premium users are looking for prices below today’s premium phones – they’re interested in premium design but less interested in advanced tech and features. In 2021, we’re extending our product line to ultra premium buyers who want advanced functionality, are willing to pay more for the latest tech, and want larger phones.”

The UK launch is being managed by creative studio Anomaly, which is choosing to focus on the ability of Google tools to connect people. Adam Koppel, group creative director at Anomaly, commented: “We are all used to getting inspiration from the things we see or do with our phones, but this is the other way around. This phone was inspired by us and that gives you a unique opportunity to do work that feels authentic and truly human.

Consequently the video spots, which will be deployed across linear TV, VOD and digital, showcase tools including Live Translate and Real Tone – a proprietary tool that allows for better photography of darker skin tones. It speaks to the ability of Google’s software tools to create connections through its software solutions – especially timely given that the UK is still existing under the threat of further lockdowns.

More importantly, the increase in advertising spend could be the new front in the competition between smartphone providers. Per Nielsen Google has spent just over £40m on smartphone advertising in the UK since 2016, while Samsung alone has spent around five times more than that.

Mannion said: “We see Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro as a significant step forward in our offering. Our focus is on building new, differentiated premium experiences across hardware, software and AI (artifical intelligence)-powered features to appeal to these types of users, regardless of what they’re using today.”

A reset of Google’s smartphone ambitions

The challenge for Google lies in countering the entrenched nature of its competitors. Apple effectively invented the smartphone as we know it, while Google is better known for its software solutions. The prize for increasing its market share, however, is another link in the chain of controlling user data and advertising solutions. If it can do that while also positioning itself as the most human of the smartphone providers, all the better.

Koppel said: “Technology can be an arms race, one that changes almost every day, and everyone has a different set of priorities for what they need. Human connection and the need to be embraced as an individual are universal and evergreen – a need that has obviously heightened in the past 18 months.

“Phones have been locked in a conversation around tech and spec for a long time. People are getting lost in the chatter. Google has always been focused on the user, so we wanted to bring the human need back to the surface.”

Despite that the Pixel 6 is being positioned as a reset for Google’s smartphone ambitions, with more powerful AI integration at its heart. Koppel believes that the added benefit of having the phones more tightly bound with the Google brand will be a draw for consumers: “Of course. But we hope it will do even more than that. For the first time the Pixel is made from scratch with a chip created and designed by Google. This connects the phone even closer to the master brand. We believe the campaign has the power to not only change how people see Pixel, but contribute to how people see Google as a whole.”

The Pixel 6 is currently being reviewed as among the best Android devices available, with a lot of the praise coming from the step up from its previous iterations due to the new Tensor chip. The marketing campaign aims to communicate that relative newness and novelty through a showcase of its features – and if nothing else the sheer scale of the spend should ensure that the message lands harder than previous iterations in the UK.