Google must put Fred Armisen in a blimp and drop him from the sky
If Google is to top the breathtaking spectacle of last year’s I/O keynote, it must strap a parachute onto Fred Armisen and drop him from the sky.
Google must grab the comedian who so deliciously savaged the Glass headset on Saturday Night Live two weeks ago, put him in a blimp, and toss him out of the dirigible as it hovers above Moscone Center. From there, Armisen’s alter ego—“tech correspondent Randall Meeks”—would use Google Glass in free fall. He would stream video of his descent, delight the I/O crowd with comedy gold, and prove to the world that the high-tech headset isn’t just a portal for on-demand porn.
Why? Because all that would be awesome. Literally awesome, and not just awesome in the colloquial sense. Because tapping into the unique, of-the-moment celebrity of Fred Armisen at Wednesday’s keynote would be one of the few stunts that could possibly top the theatrics of I/O 2012.
In case you missed it, last year Google used skydivers, bike jumpers, and building rappellers to deliver a single copy of Google Glass from 4000 feet above the event venue to Sergey Brin, who was evangelizing the headset on stage.
In a Wired Q&A Monday, Android boss Sundar Pichai said we shouldn’t expect so much from I/O this year. “It’s not a time when we have much in the way of launches of new products or a new operating system,” Pichai cautioned.
But Pichai was speaking about new product releases. Google Glass is an existing product, and it has reached a level of pop-culture transcendence. The world is waiting breathlessly to see how Google will advance the Glass narrative. For Google, reminding everyone how it won the Internet at last year’s keynote—while simultaneously attaching itself to a viral comedy video that’s still very much right now—would be a masterstroke.
Of course, my Fred Armisen egg-drop concept isn’t the only path for Google to explore this Wednesday. Allen Adamson is the managing director at the New York office of Landor Associates, one of the world’s premier branding firms, as well as the author of The Edge: 50 Tips from Brands That Lead. He cautions that Google shouldn’t overreach.
“Dropping people from the sky is a great way to get attention for an already amazing product, but not every product introduction requires a spectacle of that caliber,” Adamson told TechHive. “The key is to authentically reflect the product in the level of spectacle. If this year’s product isn’t as edgy and revolutionary as Google Glass, they shouldn’t feel like they have to outdo themselves.”
With Adamson’s advice as a backdrop, let’s look at three alternative scenarios—before returning to my preferred recommendation that Google shove Fred Armisen out of a blimp.
Turn down the volume
In this model, Google concedes that nothing will top last year’s parachute stunt, so instead it opts to make a more cerebral, quieter impression with a provocative glimpse of the future. In other words: Good-bye, Fear Factor, and hello, Science Channel.
“If I were Google, I wouldn’t have a big, showy stunt-type event because people’s expectations are already set very high,” says Rita Gunther McGrath, a Columbia Business School professor who has also done strategy consulting for Microsoft and Nokia. “What you might want is more of a ‘gee-whiz, wow, look how this impacts everyday life’ event—like something demonstrating the driverless car. It would leave an equally strong impression, but it wouldn’t be a physical stunt.”
Could a full-size driverless car wind its way to the keynote podium? Probably not (and, to be clear, that’s not what McGrath is suggesting). But how about a fleet of driverless golf carts zipping across the footpaths of Moscone Center throughout the three-day event? Lucky attendees would jump in a cart, slip on the Glass headset that’s tethered to the dash, and then stream their adventures to a Google Hangout. In one fell swoop, Google could show us how distracted-driver laws will become obsolete—because if you’re not actually driving, you don’t have to worry about using a cell phone, let alone Glass.
We’d still be talking about those golf carts in 2014. In his Wired interview, Pichai said of I/O, “We will show how Google services are doing amazing things.” Driverless golf carts: amazing. My fingers: crossed.
The rock-star moment
Who would be a better get than Fred Armisen? Arguably, a mainstream recording artist whose reach stretches from Entertainment Tonight to People to TMZ.
Sure, the thousands of nerds attending Google’s keynote might prefer the meta self-reflexivity of watching another nerd—and Fred Armisen is nothing if not nerdy—but citizens of the real world would rather see Rihanna slink and slither onstage.
And Rihanna wouldn’t even have to jump out of a lighter-than-air craft. She and her dancers could just slide on 20 copies of Google Glass, and then let the I/O event producers edit the year’s soon-to-be-most-popular concert video in real time.
The real beauty of this stunt is that it would one-up Apple, which has a history of showcasing musical acts at its product-launch events, including U2 in 2004, John Mayer in 2007, and Foo Fighters in 2012. But whereas Apple merely propped up rock stars onstage, leading to tepid and contrived corporate theater, Google has an opportunity to let Rihanna (or whomever it might get) truly shine in larger-than-life megastar fashion. And that would make Google the boss.
Call in the celebrity markers
Some tech enthusiasts balked when Google awarded several celebrities access to its Google Glass Explorer edition via the #ifihadglass contest. But marketing experts nodded in approval, and come Wednesday, Google can begin calling in its celebrity markers. “It couldn’t hurt to have famous people who’ve already used the product discuss their experiences with it,” says Adamson of Landor Associates. “Celebrities can go a long way in helping create consumer buy-in.”
Imagine, if you will, a procession of Glassy-eyed explorers hitting the I/O stage, and showing off videos of their promised #ifihadglass projects—which they surely completed with the help of Google’s finest thinkers (after all, you don’t give a 69-year-old history major like Newt Gingrich an augmented-reality headset and expect him to read the manual). The sheer demographic variety of Google’s celebrity explorers ticks off all the boxes.
Gingrich can court older users and the political right. Brandy Norwood and Soulja Boy can help penetrate what’s cravenly called the “urban” market. Mythbuster Adam Savage and filmmaker Kevin Smith can appeal to adolescent boys in that coveted 25-to-45 age range. And Neil Patrick Harris can reach fans of How I Met Your Mother and, um, Broadway musicals.
It’s unclear where Alyssa Milano fits in, because she hasn’t been a thing since Who’s the Boss? But that other TV star of the early ’90s, LeVar Burton, makes perfect sense because he can clip his new high-tech specs on top of his old high-tech specs, and just traipse on stage being all kinds of badass.
Scratch everything, cue Armisen
I’ve submitted four scenarios for topping last year’s action-sports extravaganza, and I’ll concede that even my most sober prediction might seem over the top given Pichai’s effort to lower expectations for this year’s event. But for this particular exercise, I’m not concerned about Google’s Android strategy, or even the recommendations of world-class branding strategists. I’m much more interested in a world of possibilities, a world of what-if.
The bottom line is that Fred Armisen has become the new face of Google Glass (if only by accident), and Google has so much to gain by drafting the actor to do its bidding. Seriously, how long can it possibly take to teach a man to skydive? Fred Armisen is the linchpin to the greatest high-tech marketing stunt of all time, and Google must put him in a zeppelin and then drop him from the sky.