Must See: This Google ‘Reunion’ Video Is Bringing People to Tears
by Dan Lyons November 14, 2013 at 9:01 AM
Forget for a moment that the video you’re about to watch is an advertisement. Think of it instead as a short film, and just watch. The video runs only 3 minutes, 32 seconds. If you’re not in tears, or at least misty, when it ends, then you have no soul.
The gist is this: a man in Delhi tells his granddaughter about his childhood friend, Yusuf. He hasn’t seen Yusuf since the Partition of India in 1947, when India and Pakistan became separate countries and the two friends were forced to separate. The man’s granddaughter arranges for the two to meet again.
Most of it isn’t in English, but you can turn on closed captioning.
The video was made by Google India, and the point, of course, is to promote Google Search. But it also reaches a new level of what can be done in the name of “marketing.”
It gave me chills. I showed it to my wife. She ended up in tears. Read the thousands of comments under the video on YouTube — same thing. Tears.
Why? Because it’s beautiful, and honest, and true. The photography is spectacular. (Look at the shots of Lahore.) The music is perfect. The acting is great. The story is simple, and direct, almost a fable.
There’s an extra level to this story of two long lost friends. The Partition of India was a painful episode in the history of India and Pakistan, one that led to “one of the greatest forced migrations in human history,” according to International Business Times. The grandfather in this film is one of the millions of Hindus and Sikhs who were forced to leave Pakistan and relocate in India.
These aren’t just two old friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time. This is a parable that touches on some big forces: politics, religion, geography, divisiveness.
In short, this is a pretty powerful piece of filmmaking that just happens to have been created by a big company.
I asked Google about the origins of the video, which was posted Nov. 13, on Google+, Facebook and Twitter. “Our team in India produced the video, and it was inspired by many stories of reunion in that region and around the world, where people use Google to help them connect with people and find information,” a Google spokesperson says via email. It touched a nerve, and within hours, “we’ve seen people re-posting and sharing their own stories using #googlereunion,” the spokesperson says.
Is This Marketing?
Let’s look at this as a marketing exercise. What was Google trying to acomplish? The goal, it seems to me, is to put a human face on a big multinational corporation that often seems like a kind of black box to the outside world. Who knows how Google actually works? It’s all secret algorithms thrumming away in equally secret data centers, gathering information about you.
This video is part of an effort to reshape that public image. It shows how Google uses all that information it is gathering — not for some nefarious purpose, but to help people connect with each other. To reunite long-lost friends.
To be sure, Google is also touting its product. The Google product placements are carefully chosen. We see Google search used on a laptop and on mobile devices, for example. We see location searches, word definitions, business listings, airline flight status, a weather forecast.
A lot of companies are trying to figure out how to use storytelling as part of their marketing. Very few do it well. There are a few things to be learned:
It’s not short. The rule of thumb has been that videos online should be two minutes or less. But that’s changing. For the right content, people will stick around. I realize that 3:32 is a far cry from a feature film. But it’s also a far cry from a 15-second pre-roll. And it works.
It tells a story. There are real characters. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. There’s a big story contained in a short film. What’s even more amazing is that the story is told in pictures. You can watch the video without any closed captions, and still understand the story and be moved by it.
Google made it easy to share. Google created the #googlereunion hashtag, and encouraged people to share their own stories of reuniting with friends or relatives. That turned viewers into evangelists.
It’s not about Google, it’s about Google’s customers. Google isn’t showing you the Googleplex, or its cool cafeterias. This isn’t a movie about how awesome it is to work at Google. This is about how people use Google products. That said, however:
The brand is part of the story, front and center. Sometimes companies are afraid to include themselves in their marketing and storytelling. They fear this will put people off. So they end up making videos or telling stories that have nothing to do with their business. They leave their products out entirely. Viewers are left scratching their heads and wondering why this company made this video, or what on earth this video has to do with the company that made it. It’s ridiculous, and worse yet, it feels dishonest.
It’s obvious that this video is promoting Google. But the use of Google is woven into the narrative in a way that feels natural. It’s not intrusive, or forced. It works.
When you’re making a marketing video, your brand has to be in the picture. The trick is to do it in a way that feels true to life. You can — and should — be proud of what you do. If you’re not proud of your product, you shouldn’t be making videos. Heck, you shouldn’t be in business.
The message of the video is clear: We’re Google, and the work we do is making the world a better place.
There’s also a subtle but important subtext, which is that an older generation lived in a world where people were driven apart by religion and ethnicity, but a new generation does not feel bound by those old enmities. Technology transcends borders, both geographical and metaphorical. The two grandchildren are fluent in the language of technology, which their elders do not speak. The two young people use technology to solve a problem, and though they are complete strangers to one another, they work together.
For what it’s worth, Google has been making some other pretty amazing videos lately. Like this one, “Dear Sophie,” which has received nearly 10 million views on YouTube:
Christina Tarkoff 9:15 AM on November 14, 2013
@Dan. Google has created an amazingly poignant video. So touching and heartfelt. And…you have created this amazingly authentic post that touches on the “best of the best” of marketing and, dare I say, advertising. You have eloquently described how companies need to always stay true to their mission AND their products. Thanks for this “remarkable” post.