This posting examines the Google Chrome commercial “dear.sophie.lee” through the deconstruction process provided by the Media Literacy Project ("Introduction to media"). We explore the source, the audience, the text, the subtext, the persuasion techniques, and finally the point of view of the ad.  Such an analysis allows the viewer to see beyond the desired effect of the commercial to the manipulation used providing a better basis for evaluating the messages communicated.


The client for this commercial is the internet media giant, Google, advertising their new web browser, Google Chrome.  The campaign’s theme, “the web is what you make of it” included television and online commercials highlighting the various ways individuals utilize Chrome and other Google services.  The campaign was a joint venture between the Google Creative Lab and BBH New York (Duncan, 2011).  In itself, this client-advertiser relationship is an unusual one.

In 2007, Google birthed the Google Creative Lab by recruiting the best talent from the top advertising and design schools around the world for the purpose of working within the lab for a year, and then sending them out to work within the advertising industry (Iezzi, 2010).  Advertising agencies looking for innovative talent savvy with the new technologies benefit from Google trained designers, and Google benefits from its disciples infiltrating the industry.  Far from the typical client-advertising agency relationship, this creative interdependency allows for greater collusion than associated with traditional marketing relationships (Wong, 2011). 


Already capturing two thirds of all on-line searches, Google targeted the remaining third (Miller, 2011).  In an internet market currently serviced by several capable internet browsers when Google launched Chrome in 2008, Chrome’s primary distinguishing feature from their competition was the introduction of an “omnibox” that replaced the separate url box and search box. “On a tactical basis, everybody that uses Chrome is a guaranteed locked-in user for (Google Search) in terms of having access to Google,” said Patrick Pichette, Google’s chief financial officer (Miller).

In 2008 when Chrome was introduced, its major competition with browser usage was Internet Explorer.  By 2010 Internet Explorer still captured 51% of the market to Chrome’s 10% (“Top 5 Browsers”, 2010).  Since the launch of the “web is what you make of it” campaign, Internet Explorer has dropped to 35% and Chrome has climbed to 29% (“Top 5 Browsers”, 2012).

Google states on their website that “Google Chrome (was) developed for users who spend most of their time on the web for work or entertainment, and (was) designed for different computers from small netbooks to the full-sized desktop systems” (Admin, 2011).  In a 2005 demographic and psychological profile study of heavy internet users (Assael), common characteristics of said users included an age of 18-34, an income between $100,000-$150,000, with only a slight edge toward males.  They tended to be workaholics, heavy multi-taskers, preferred things available 24/7, leaned towards liberal politics and favored technology.  Other characteristics, such as marital status were more closely identified with their use which fell into 6 categories. 

Generalists: frequent email users, information seekers, web purchasers

Downloaders: download software and music

Self-lmprovers: search for jobs, collect information on business and education, read news

Entertainment Seekers: play games, seek to be entertained

Traders: make stock transactions

Socializers: participate in chat forums. (pg. 96)

The campaign effectively spanned the variety within the heavy user target audience with real life stories ranging from megastars like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber who used Google to launch their empires to simpler more humble usages like a the creation of a father’s gmail account upon the birth of his first child.

Text of commercial

Daniel Lee, an Asian American Father, shares memories with his daughter of her childhood by using Google and the web to create a virtual scrapbook.

The camera shots within the commercial are only of the computer screen.  The presence of Daniel is implied as the camera follows the click of his cursor to setup a Gmail account for dear.sophie.lee, reads his script as he types notes and captions, zooms in on photos of her that he shares, watches home videos of Sophie’s childhood events, and navigates Google maps to locate a picture of the family home.

The music is a simple piano score that brings in strings and accelerates as the sequence of shared photos, videos and subject lines speed up revealing a rapidly growing Sophie.  The commercial concludes with the quiet piano again as the camera zooms in to see the cursor finally type in the signature of the author – DAD.

The story is true, but the names have been changed (Miller, 2011).  Google used professional actors for the photos and videos that are posted within the commercial, but they are shot with the unpolished spontaneity of home videos and snapshots.

Subtext of commercial

Google is an extension of human touch and communion.  The ad successfully creates an affection not only for Sophie, but also for the father who so carefully chronicles her life.  We only see him in one photo and hear his voice in the background of videos. The technology of Google stands in abstentia for both the daughter and the father. 

Google has eternal value, akin to a family heirloom.  The technology has both a past (recorded memories) and a future (anticipated sharing with Sophie).

 Google is a facilitator of love.  But by witnessing the father’s use of technology the audience voyeuristically peeks into Daniel’s heart for his daughter.

Google is not a product, but a human activity.  What do you make of it?  Make a letter.  Make a picture.  Make a video.  Make a diary.  Make a message.  Make a memory.

If you use Google, you will be a better father.  Using emerging technologies allows you to connect in unprecedented ways that will delight and charm your children. 

Google users are smart, clever, beautiful, and love their families.

Persuasion Techniques

Andy Bernt, vice president of the Google Creative Lab, explains “We try to get rid of everything but the user and the tools and let you feel what is happening there, without a lot of commentary from Google itself” (Miller, 2011).  NY Times reporter Claire Miller summarizes “Google’s solution is to tug at people’s heartstrings with emotional ads about what they can do with Chrome.”

In this particular commercial, Google uses several persuasion techniques as identified by the Media Literacy Project ("Introduction to media,").  Google makes “Explicit claims” by demonstrating visually the application of services.  It uses “Association” to link Chrome with the intimacy of family and the eternal value of a legacy.  Google uses the “Testimonials” of “Plain folks” to emphasize the accessibility of Chrome and the diversity of application by unsophisticated users.  Google uses a “Warm and fuzzy” approach featuring sentimental images to “stimulate feelings of comfort and delight”.  This is intensified by also introducing elements of “Fear” when a fever provokes a brief hospital stay for Sophie.  Dramatically larger script and snatches of longer email messages with words like “hospital”, “fever”, “helpless” increase our anxiety and the audience’s dependency on the technology to get the rest of the story.

Point of View

As the Media Literacy Project puts it, “No one tells the whole story” ("Introduction to media").  In the case of Google, the “web is what you make of it” campaign followed on the heels of rising criticism of the media giant’s apparent willingness to violate its users privacy.  So, while the “dear.sophie.lee” commercial portrays a most human and heartfelt connection between a father and his daughter, it does not portray the fact that Daniel’s emails and passwords are “harvested” without his knowledge (Helft, 2010) or that the home photo accessed through Google maps was taken and published without permission and/or notification (Miller,2010).  By strategically avoiding these decidedly disquieting aspects of Google usage, the commercial distracts us with the universal emotional tug to connect. Google overcomes the objection to selling identity by selling us on the idea of creating identity.


This commercial is enormously effective at imbuing technology with humanity.  It mediates the mediated by only showing us the evidence of humans as recorded by technology via email, picture, and video form.  By doing so, our humanity is extended in such a seductive matter that we fail to consider the implied Faustian bargain that gets made in the process.  In extending our humanity through technology, we also surrender our humanity to technology.  Nothing is free.  We submit our free will to the emotional manipulation of corporations.  We pay for our free expression with the sacrifice of individual privacy.  This unholy collaboration echoes the same undeniable temptation that tripped up the original Faust – moral integrity for unlimited knowledge. 


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