It has long been a fundamental principle of brand management that a company logo should never be tinkered with, and must remain consistent at all times. Despite defying this tenet, the Google doodle- where the Google logo is altered to commemorate events, milestones and anniversaries- has proven to be a popular addition to the Google homepage that generates a great deal of media interest for the company.
The Google Doodle was born in 1998, when founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin altered the Google logo to alert users that they would be away, attending the Burning Man festival in Nevada. Two years later then intern Dennis Hwang, now webmaster, was asked to create a doodle to commemorate Bastille Day. The popularity this doodle received amongst the users of Google ensured the doodle would become a regular recurrence on the company’s home page. Today, Google has a whole team of artists who work on new doodles.
The team are not the only ones who have had their doodles featured on the homepage. The company has held the Doodle4Google competition in the UK, the US, Ireland and Singapore, which allows school children to enter their own designs for a doodle. Voted for by the public, the winner has their doodle displayed on the homepage for 24 hours and wins a trip to the ‘Googleplex’, the company’s headquarters.
Initially, many of the doodles were to appear on the Google homepage to celebrate the birthdays of famous artists, scientists and inventors, from Einstein and Da Vinci to John Lennon and Michael Jackson. Others were to celebrate holidays, while others still were to mark the company’s anniversaries. As the doodle became a recognisable, regular feature of the site, the range of subjects they covered grew.
A very popular development, which garnered a great deal of press attention for Google, was the arrival of the interactive doodle. Taking the form of interactive animations or playable games, these new features engaged the company’s users like never before. The first was a small version of the game Pac Man, with the Google logo forming the maze. The game proved so popular, that user demand lead to Google setting up a permanent website, so that the game could be played despite its removal from the homepage. Another popular interactive doodle took the form of a playable guitar, celebrating the 96th birthday of Les Paul. Users were able to interact with the guitar by strumming the strings with their mouse, and users in the US were able to create 30 second video clips of their playing to send to their friends, bringing a great deal of attention to the doodle throughout social networks. Since then, doodles have included music videos, mini games and updating, real time images of a lunar eclipse.
Google has localised homepages for different countries across the world, and doodles too are often tailored to specific parts of the world, ensuring their relevance to the users who frequent the page. These doodles have included national celebrations, such as Canada Day and the Diamond Jubilee, election days and the commemoration of local figures. The doodles chosen by Google have not always been without controversy. In 2007 critics, spurred by a doodle commemorating the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite, attacked Google for not featuring doodles celebrating more patriotic American holidays. Google responded by, later that year, featuring a doodle for Veteran’s Day.
The doodles have not just had to show sensitivity to national sensibilities. The company has a special colourless logo which it places on local pages in recognition of major tragedies. This was first used on Google Poland, due to the air disaster which killed President Lech Kaczyski. In the wake of the 2012 Newtown shooting, Google placed a single candle on the homepage.
The variation brought by the Google doodles has become as recognisable as the standard Google logo, and the doodles regularly create a great deal of interest in the company. Despite the frequent changes to the logo that appears on the homepage, the page itself remains instantly recognisable thanks to the familiar streamlined design. The popularity of the doodles has not affected Google’s use of their logo in other situations and on other products, with the company here following the brand management principle of continuity and consistency.