Google, the internet company which once saw traditional advertising as its chief rival, has in 2011 fully embraced television commercials, investing several times more than it did last year as it tries to persuade consumers to swap from entrenched competition to its new social network and web browser.
Its latest TV spot, shown during Christmas week in pricey American shows such as The X Factor, featured Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and other characters from the Muppets using "Hangouts", the video chat component of Google+, the search company's Facebook rival which launched over the summer.
The Muppets ads, run at a time when many consumers will have holiday time to try out new internet services, are just the latest example of Google's rapid conversion to broadcast advertising that began with its first TV spot in the 2010 Super Bowl.
The first nine months of 2011 saw Google spend $137.5m in the US on TV, print, outdoor, radio and online display advertising, according to estimates by WPP's Kantar Media, more than double its $57.4m spend in 2010 and up from just $12.3m in 2009.
Although more than half of that total is spent on the web, where it can use its own properties, TV has seen the biggest jump in Google's spending, leaping from $6m in 2010 to $38.1m in the year to September, a sixfold increase, according to Kantar.
Throughout 2011, Google has been running poster ads on London buses and the Underground to promote movie rentals on YouTube and internet safety.
"All of our campaigns start with online, but we're always looking for the best ways to connect users with our tools, whether it's a 'Good to Know' poster inviting you to think about internet safety while waiting for your train, or a Chrome 'The Web is What You Make of it' film during an X Factor ad break," said Obi Felten, Google's director of consumer marketing for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Google's marketing budget remains small by the standards of most companies its size â€“ Microsoft, which unlike Google charges for most of its products, is estimated to spend more than $1bn a year on media in the US alone.
But Google's leap in spending, and the imaginative work from agencies such as BBH and M&C Saatchi as well as its own in-house Creative Lab, show that it is having to work much harder to convince consumers to switch from Facebook or Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser than it does for search, where it remains dominant in most global markets.
Although tens of millions of users have signed up for Google+ in just a few months, it has yet to shake the perception of being an early-adopter service for geeks, remaining far behind Facebook's 800m users.
Speaking at the Cannes Lions advertising festival earlier this year, Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, said he thought that "hell had frozen over" when it was suggested Google should buy a multimillion-dollar Super Bowl spot.
"In the decade I was at the company, I never saw the value of TV," he said. "I thought somebody must have had a screw loose." But after the board approved the idea and a video about Parisian lovers was chosen from YouTube, the TV broadcast pulled in so much incremental search traffic that it "paid for itself", Mr Schmidt said.
This year's TV campaign to promote Google Chrome has also been "really successful", he added, because it was able to educate users about its benefits in a way that static online banners, text ads or even links on Google's homepage could not.
A YouTube video showing how a young London entrepreneur used Chrome became the second most-watched video ad in the UK this year, garnering 3.4m views. Chrome's market share overtook Mozilla Firefox in November to become the number-two browser to Internet Explorer, according to StatCounter, suggesting the ad campaign is working despite a complex proposition.
"There are some things, such as Chrome, which are quite difficult to sell," said one advertising agency executive, who did not wish to be named because he has worked on Google's account. "Switching a browser is a bit like switching a bank account â€“ you have to understand the benefits of switching and the benefits of the product. With Chrome, that doesn't jump out at you."
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