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Interview: Ji Lee of the Google Creative Team

At the Googleplex, it’s all feats of engineering and web innovation. Gmail, Android, Chrome…there’s no end to Google’s roster. But as a brand, how does this work? How would you market them under one umbrella identity? For Ji Lee, it’s all in a day’s work.

Ji is a creative director of Google Creative Lab, a crack team of advertising and marketing heads put together to promote Google’s products and the brand itself. Creative Lab’s projects include last year’s Superbowl commercial “Parisian Love”, new arcade Arcade Fire video made entirely with HTML5 coding language, Chrome Experiments, which crowdsources for Javascript art to plug the browser, and Search Stories, a do-it-yourself video creator based on Google’s biggest product, search.

“Google Creative Lab is a small group within Google whose job is to get the genie outside the building,” he says. Ji is an ex-adman, moving to Google after stints at Droga5 and Saatchi & Saatchi; and he admits that while the creative methodologies themselves remain the same at Google—having a brief and working with teams—it’s the speed at which Google works that sets it apart from traditional agencies.

“At Google, things move very fast,” he explains. “Because there are constantly new product launches and many things happening all the time, we have to work faster. Our team is also smaller than at the big agencies.”

Simplicity is another thing prized by Ji and Google. Stressing how Google's products are “free and useful”, Ji says that in promoting the brand, “it's really about being relevant and helpful”.

He explains, “We tend to use simple, transparent and conversational dialog rather use of metaphors, scripted acting and special effects. We have to communicate our message as clearly as possible to respect our users' time.”

And it's almost second nature to Ji. Coming from a varied background—Ji was born in Korea, raised in Brazil, and attended Parsons School of Design in New York—meant language was a problem. Each move heralded a new culture, surroundings and peoples, and Ji learnt that he had to communicate in the “simplest way”.

It's an experience that has taught him well. “When working with big brands like Google and others and doing campaigns that are global, the message has to be really simple so everyone can easily understand it,” says Ji.

So with all that social media, 360-degree marketing, integrated campaigns and other hype-building jazz often clouding a potent message, Ji maintains that rumors of the 'big idea’s death has greatly been exaggerated.

“The 'big idea' is even more relevant these days,” he says. “Because anyone can make it happen through use of internet and free technology .”

Just take a look at one of Google's bigger and most important products, its Chrome browser. Ji says about working on this campaign “one of the most challenging product he has to work with. Most people don't know what a browser is”.

“Most people buy a computer and they simply click the icon that says 'internet' to get online,” he says. “They don't really see the need of changing that, or downloading a new, better browser because the current way to get online works fine for them.”

And the Chrome Shorts project keeps to the triad of fun, light and simple communication. Masterminded by the Google Creative Lab, the project culls quick and quirky videos demonstrating the perks of the browser, like a Mythbusters-style lab experiment that show off Chrome's speed for example.

But what about the tech heads, another crucial component of Google's user base? The crowdsourced Javascript art project, Chrome Experiments, was kickstarted by the Google Creative Lab to appeal to these advanced users; it's all about reaching out to different audiences with what’s relevant to them.“We want these advanced tech users to try Chrome and hopefully become evangelists of our product,” explains Ji. “In this case, we're targeting a much smaller group of people.”

The bottom line is: there are just so many types of Google users and Google products themselves that it's not about creating a cogent message for all of them at once, but rather think about the audience and create messages that make sense to them.

Ji, along with other Google enthusiasts even started a website, Goollery.org, to collect and archive the tons of Google-inspired projects from around the world that use free and open Google APIs.

Google, it seems, can't be boiled down to any one service, product or even idea. The latest Google Creative Lab project tries to aggregate all its new launches—and there are a lot—into one easily digestible platform, Google New; and even then, it's loads of information.

“There are so many aspects to Google's brand that it's hard to sum it up,” says Ji. “Google has one of philosophies which comes directly from our founders: Do things that matter. And this reminds me of what kind of projects I should be doing at Google.”

And that's where Google Creative Lab and Ji Lee come in. Innovation at Google doesn't just come in the lines of code—it's right down to the advertising and marketing wires as well.

Click here to view more of Ji Lee's work.
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