Google’s Super Bowl ad will make you cry. Or wince.

“How to not forget,” is typed into a Google search bar.

That’s the simple way that Google started its Super Bowl ad, which featured an elderly man’s voice as he asked Google Assistant to help him remember details about his late wife.

The narrator laughs as the ad goes on to show a photo of a younger, moustachioed version of himself with “Loretta.”

“Remember, Loretta hated my moustache,” he says in a way that makes the viewer think that the man is sitting around with his friends or family, sweetly reminiscing.

But while you or I may be moved by the idea that Loretta hated his facial hair, we know that it’s not romance that’s moving the conveyor belt in this nostalgia factory. In spite of the sentimental fog in which the tender musical soundtrack tries to swaddle us, we know that Google Assistants’ algorithms aren’t murmuring in sympathy. Rather, they’re churning away, recognizing that “Remember” voice command so that it can add keywords to its repertoire and thereby wind the marketing behemoth’s tentacles around us ever more firmly.

The marketing pitch worked. Emotions were evoked. Viewers’s heartstrings were plucked.

Google’s Super Bowl spot featured no celebrities. Like its previous commercials, this one was inspired by real people. In 2009, that meant an American finding love in Paris. Thanks, Google and all your products, for telling him the difference between truffles and Truffaut and advising about long-distance relationships and finding jobs in Paris.

Similarly, the narrator’s voice in Sunday’s ad was that of a Google employee’s 85-year-old grandfather.

Last week, Google’s chief marketing officer, Lorraine Twohill, wrote in a blog post that Google’s goal is to “build products that help people in their daily lives, in both big and small ways.”

Sometimes that’s finding a location, sometimes it’s playing a favorite movie, and sometimes it’s using the Google Assistant to remember meaningful details.

You have to have a heart of steel not to get feelies for the reality-inspired stories. Of course, we’re not idiots. Our waterworks were tempered with well-earned cynicism. The ad was done, after all, in the service of profit, as some noted:

Ads for products such as music/DVDs/streaming services/Broadway tickets:

Loretta used to hum showtunes.

…or flower delivery or tulip bulbs or Life Tulips x-ray photography canvas print Wall Art or Tulip Soft Fabric Paints 1oz 10-pkg-assorted (4.5 stars on Google Shopping):

Loretta’s favorite flowers were tulips.

You have to wonder: with all that we now know about Loretta, we’re lacking one important detail: Did Loretta enjoy having her every character trait and preference used for targeted marketing?

Do you? If not, perhaps you could ask Google Assistant to “remember that I hate being tracked.”

Fat lot of good it may do you, of course. Remember, Google Assistant, what we learned about a year ago? That thousands of Android apps bypass advertising ID to track users, and that as of 2018, Google could track the location of anyone using some of its apps on Android or iPhone even when they’ve told it not to.

Remember? Yes, Google, we do remember, and we’ll keep remembering, even as your ads masterfully stir our hearts.


Latest Naked Security podcast

LISTEN NOW

Click-and-drag on the soundwaves below to skip to any point in the podcast. You can also listen directly on Soundcloud.