Google pushes Chrome browser as PC battle looms

* Google departs from usual strategy with real-world ads

* Campaign comes ahead of EU browser ballot

* Chrome is central part of strategy to challenge Microsoft

By Georgina Prodhan and Leila Abboud

LONDON/PARIS, Feb 2 (BestGrowthStock) – Google (GOOG.O: ) has taken
the unusual step of using real-world advertising to promote its
Chrome web browser in Europe ahead of a regulatory change that
will make it easier for consumers to switch Web browsers.

In a departure from its usual dependence on viral and
word-of-mouth marketing, Google is running a billboard and
newspaper ad campaign for its Chrome browser in the streets and
underground train stations of London, Paris and Amsterdam.

The campaign comes as the European Union is gearing up to
implement its so-called browser ballot, which will allow users
to actively select the programme they will use to surf the
Internet when they use their computer for the first time.

It is also a sign of Google’s increasing willingness to
engage with traditional media — in this case ad agency Omnicom
(OMC.N: ), which is managing the campaign — many of whom are
upset at what they see as Google’s profiting at their expense.

Chief Executive Eric Schmidt has said recently Google wants
to help publishers survive the transition online. [ID:nN0395790]

“Two years ago, I think there was a Google way. You either
took it or left it,” says Chris Hayward, head of UK trading at
media buyer ZenithOptimedia. “My personal opinion is that now
they’re becoming much more commercially sensitive.”

The browser ballot was proposed by Microsoft as part of a
settlement of a European Union antitrust dispute that was
initiated by Google and browser maker Opera (OPERA.OL: ).
[ID:nLDE5BF10A]

“Consumers think that the “e” you see on your desktop is
synonymous with the Internet. That’s a position that’s very good
for Microsoft and difficult for Google,” said analyst Ross
Sandler of RBC, referring to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer icon.

By pushing its Chrome browser, Google is trying to change
consumer perceptions, and mount a real challenge to Microsoft’s
dominance of the desktop computer.

“We think browsers are really important, in fact perhaps the
most important part of your computer,” said a Google spokesman.

“Our recent marketing campaign is a part of this overall
investment in browsers, through which we hope to help make the
Web faster, more useful and more secure.”

In Paris, one billboard lists what a person does with Chrome
as he impulsively decides to book a trip to the soccer World
Cup: watching videos on YouTube, chatting with friends, looking
for plane tickets to Johannesburg, then tweeting his decision.

“Twenty-one tabbed windows open, zero bugs, one web
browser,” the ad reads.

But despite Chrome’s superior performance in many respects,
such as speed of loading pages, it has failed to gain meaningful
market share since coming out just over a year ago.

According to NetMarketShare statistics published on Monday,
Chrome had just 5.2 percent of the global browser market in
January, behind Microsoft’s Internet Explorer at 62.2 percent
and open-source Mozilla Firefox, which had 24.4 percent.

CREATING BUZZ

Under the measure to take effect in mid-March, European
users of Microsoft Windows, which runs nine out of ten of the
world’s PCs, will be given an explicit choice of 12 browsers.

Some analysts are sceptical it will significantly change
consumer behaviour.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if Chrome comes
pre-loaded on a computer or not,” said Laura Martin, an analyst
who covers Google at Soleil Media Metrics. “Consumers are fickle
and change browsers easily.”

Increasing market share will be crucial if Google is to
succeed in creating a new Web-based operating system built on
Chrome that could one day challenge Microsoft’s Windows.

“It’s very heated in the sense of wanting to try to gain
customer loyalty through the whole range of products from the
browser to the operating system to applications like email,”
said analyst Sheri McLeish of IT research firm Forrester.

RBC’s Sandler says: “I think they want to create some buzz
and some awareness ahead of the larger product launch, which is
the operating system expected later this year.”

Also to boost Chrome use, Google struck a deal with Sony
(6758.T: ) last year to pre-install Chrome on certain computers.

Google declined to say how much it was spending on the
European advertising campaign. Omnicom did not return repeated
calls for comment.

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(Additional reporting by Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco;
Editing by Erica Billingham)

Google pushes Chrome browser as PC battle looms