Google is once again taking up arms in the browser wars, in the belief that people who use its Chrome Web browser will be more likely to keep using Google search.
The company is taking the battle to mainstream America with an ad campaign using the old-fashioned medium of prime-time TV to talk about the Web. The 90-second ads, which began Tuesday night, show off Chrome, which it introduced in 2008. “As people look for more cool and more interesting things on the Web, our business grows,” said Andy Berndt, vice president of the Google Creative Lab, which created the campaign with the ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
While Google captures two-thirds of online searches, Microsoft , whose Bing service has only 14 percent of searches, has its browsers on far more computers.
About 45 percent of computers use one of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browsers, according to StatCounter, a Web analytics firm, while Chrome has only about 18 percent of the market. Internet Explorer’s share, however, is down from 53 percent a year ago, while Chrome’s share has climbed from 8 percent. Last year, the number of Chrome users tripled to 120 million, from 40 million, Google said. Firefox, a browser produced by Mozilla, has 30 percent of the market while Safari, Apple’s browser, has only 5 percent.
The Google ad campaign, called “the Web is what you make of it,” is the biggest offline campaign ever for Google, which has typically shied away from advertising. It declined to disclose its spending plan.
Google says it cares so much about promoting Chrome because the more people use the Web, the more they use Google. For example, when Chrome users enter search queries in the big box at the top of the browser, which Google calls the omnibox, they go directly to Google search results.
“Instead of looking for Google and looking for search, the omnibox gives them immediate access to Google search,” Patrick Pichette, Google’s chief financial officer, said in a conference call with analysts last month.
“On a tactical basis, everybody that uses Chrome is a guaranteed locked-in user for us in terms of having access to Google,” he said during that call.
Google later said that Mr. Pichette misspoke and that Chrome users were not “locked in” because they could easily visit other search engines or change the default search engine.
As mobile Internet use heats up, a new round of battles among browser and search companies is heating up, too. Apple iPhones come with a Safari browser and a Google search box, and Microsoft could poach Google users with its search partnership with Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry, announced Tuesday.
“The Chrome browser does have this tie-in to Google,” said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land and an industry analyst. “If you’re installing it, there’s a much greater chance that you’re going to end up using Google and staying with Google.”
But, as Google amusingly discovered when it toured Times Square with a video camera to ask people what a browser is, many people don’t know the name of their browser or that they can download a different browser than the one preloaded on their PC.
“The browser’s probably the most important piece of software on anyone’s computer, but a lot of people, the people we’re targeting with these TV spots, don’t know what a browser is,” said Robert Wong, creative director of the Google Creative Lab.
Another challenge: Google developed Chrome because it didn’t think the existing browsers were good enough for its products. But in many ways, rival browsers have since caught up.
“Microsoft does adequately well for the vast majority of consumers,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School who has written books about competition among Internet businesses.
“The problem for both Firefox and Chrome is how are they going to convince customers that they have a significantly better product, worth the hassle of actually going and downloading something that’s new and different.”
Google’s solution is to tug at people’s heartstrings with emotional ads about what they can do with Chrome. It is appealing to Internet users who don’t care about the technical benefits of Chrome like rendering speed or apps and extensions.
One of the TV ads, “Dear Sophie,” shows a father creating a scrapbook in Gmail by sending his daughter notes, photos and videos as she grows up. As he records ballet classes and birthdays, he drags photos from Picasa into Gmail and shows their first home on Google Maps. Like all the ads, it is a true story, Google said, though it used actors and changed the names.
Another, “It Gets Better,” shows people using Chrome’s toolbar and YouTube to record videos for the It Gets Better Project to help gay teenagers who fear bullying.
The ads zero in on the computer screen, showing what people are typing and uploading, similar to the “Parisian Love” ad that aired during the Super Bowl in 2010, which told the story of an American exchange student who falls in love with a woman in Paris.
“We try to get rid of everything but the user and the tools and let you feel what is happening there, without a lot of commentary from Google itself,” Mr. Berndt said.
The new TV campaign, which ran Tuesday during “One Tree Hill” and “Glee” and which Google plans to continue with new ads, makes a subtle reference to Chrome. Google more blatantly states its mission in the accompanying online ads.
They will appear on various Web sites as white boxes cycling through phrases like “make a blog,” “make an observation,” “make a declaration” and “make yourself heard.” At the end of each ad appears a big button that says, “Switch to a new browser. Download Google Chrome.”