Yesterday was Father’s Day, and in proud Google tradition the search giant’s homepage logo was replaced by a clever Father’s Day graphic. Nothing too new here, since Google’s been doing these “Google Doodles” for over a decade now for most major holidays and events.
It’s hard to see how anyone could object to the Google Father’s Day doodle. After all, it’s just a logo appearing on a public site, in a spot where users are accustomed to seeing event-specific graphics. Innocuous enough.
Google is drawing some heat for another Father’s Day-related topic: a reminder in Google Voice (the sidebar in Gmail allowing users to make calls from their computers) to “Call dad.” While this probably seemed like a cute idea at the time, it drew immediate backlash from Google users (the quotes below are from Google’s support forum):
I very recently lost my dad and I while I understand the sentiment, having that "reminder" there is incredibly mocking.
yah, i tried calling my dad using this function, but he's not currently on earth right now. i would REALLY appreciate this "reminder" (i'm reminded everyday he's gone, thank you very much,) being removed, or some helpful direction as to how to change this setting.
My father was extremely abusive when I was growing up... or he was until the court ordered that he couldn't be within 50 yards of me or my sibling. Fathers' day is HARD for me. Especially since I don't think my family members ever forgave me for testifying against him.
I’m sure Google meant well. There’s no good reason I can think of for offending users for no real reason – after all, Google was paying for free Father’s Day calls users made through this tool. Why, then, the intense backlash?
As technology becomes more and more personal, small, seemingly unimportant things like Google’s “Call Dad” reminder take on more and more meaning. No one responds on an emotional level to items that show up on Google’s homepage – while sometimes cool or clever, none of the Google Doodles there are ever or will ever be that “personal.”
Gmail and Google Voice are a different story. We react emotionally to e-mail and phone calls all the time – from someone’s funny away message to a sad email about a relative or colleague who passed away. Google imposing its “Call Dad” reminder in this private area changes the whole way we react to something that would otherwise escape without much notice. While it may have seemed like a cute or clever idea at the time, Google ignored the very real emotions its reminder in a private online area could inflict.
This hits a little close to home. This was the 12th Father’s Day since my dad passed away. Like the previous eleven Father’s Days, I would have traded anything to spend the day with my dad – and I didn’t need Google to remind me of that. (I love Google Calendar’s reminders to pay my Verizon bill on time, though!)
Am I outraged or that upset by this? No. It’s relatively minor and ultimately doesn’t mean that much to me in the grand scheme of things. I’m still a big fan of Google and its products and am proud of my firstname.lastname@example.org email address – with Davis perennially one of the top-ten most popular last names in the country, that wasn’t easy to get. Still, many folks really were hurt by this – just take a look at that Google support forum link to see some examples.
Is there a lesson to be learned from this situation for Internet marketers? Yes. Take care – especially when drafting something that will be shown in relatively “private” areas (e.g. e-mails, Facebook news feeds, phone, etc) to respect your audience’s sensitivities and avoid a situation like Google has found itself in.
Good intentions don’t mean much when you wind up causing your audience real emotional pain.