In the 1990 movie Home Alone, 8-year-old Kevin McCallister, was mistakenly left behind at home during his family’s Christmas trip, where he challenged two burglars by gearing booby traps around the house. Just when you thought mister and misses McCallister would perform a better job as parents and remember their kid, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,” as George Santayana once said. In the 2018 Google advert, adult Kevin McCallister, is – once again – forgotten by his family; however, this time he is greatly prepared compared to the prior experience. The advert which promotes Google Assistant devices stars actor, Macaulay Culkin, playing a grown-up Kevin, who tries to protect himself and fend off two house intruders. This time; however, Kevin does not execute his operation alone (as he did in the original film), but with the aid of Google Assistant. This advert goes to show that Google explicitly sells Google Assistant – an artificial intelligence virtual assistant, but it implicitly sells nostalgia and childhood memories, along with the idea of technology convenience with the use of a vastly adored film and a famous television character.
The ad – shown on YouTube -- starts off with a front view of the McCallister’s house, then spans to the kitchen where Kevin checks in with the virtual assistant on his tablet for the day’s schedule, which tells him “you have one event called ‘house to yourself’.” Subsequently, he spends the next hours commanding the virtual assistant to add aftershave to his shopping list, to set a reminder for washing his bed sheets, to communicate with the pizza delivery person through a smart camera system, and to adjust the house temperature. Afterward, he settles down at the dining table preparing to consume his mac and cheese with a glass of milk when the clock strikes exactly nine. While the burglars’ van arrives outside the house, Kevin orders his Google Home to begin his operation – “Operation Kevin underway,” the virtual assistant replies. The operation directly goes into effect by automatically switching on the lights, locking the door, and setting a cutout of a mannequin and basketball player, Kevin Durant, in motion with the help of a robotic vacuum. Meanwhile, the song “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee is played in the background. All of these “tricks” are meant to give the burglars the impression that the house is occupied. Unlike the original movie, where we get to see more actions, the Google ad cuts to its ending with a message which says, “Make Google do it.”
The Google Assistant advert was published and shared on national television and YouTube – a video-sharing platform owned by Google. The company chose to promote their products via a commercial to implement their remake of Home Alone, along with a beloved fictional character. In the article The Impact of…Promotional Videos on Young Adults, author Yang Fong mentions that “Advertisement videos always leave an impression in the human mind and plays dynamic roles in influencing dreams and desires of customers and helps them to take decisions about choosing good quality products and brands.” In other words, brands sell their products in videos by tapping into the viewer’s mind and impulse, creating stories to push the consumer’s desires. Both TV and YouTube are ideal mediums that possess the capacity to telecommunicate to a vast and diverse audience. Anyone who has access to a TV or the internet can view the commercial without any financial restrictions. On one hand, sharing the advertisement on national television specifically captures an audience of sports fans, news fans, or show series fans. On the other hand, uploading the advertisement on YouTube captures an audience of individuals who might look for any of following keywords: AI virtual assistant, speakers, holiday gifts, or Christmas or other similar terms.
The intended audience for this Google Assistant ad assumes to be an adult in his or her twenties or older. It is tailored to individuals with homes, who may want to connect their home appliances to the virtual assistant and let it do the work. Moreover, it also targets people with a hectic work schedule and lifestyle, such as business owners, executives, or event coordinators. Here, in the ad, the Google Assistant devices demonstrate its intelligence and ability to access your calendar information, make appointments, set reminders, and control your smart home devices. More importantly, we get to see Kevin using it to help him navigate through his day and fool the burglars out of the house. This shows the viewer that by purchasing the product he or she, too, can experience the practicality of having a virtual assistant on hand. For example, the user can connect the assistant to a smart coffee maker, then commands it to brew coffee at a scheduled time every morning. It also conveys the idea that the AI system integrated well into Kevin’s life and his operation; therefore, it is fully capable of performing simple commands in an everyday life situation.
Regarding the emotional component of this ad, Google draws out the feeling of nostalgia from its audience by recreating a famous scene of the 1990 Home Alone film in their commercial. Additionally, not only did they hire the same actor who played in the movie, but also went above and beyond to film the ad in a strikingly similar setting. How might this strategy evoke emotions from the viewer?
First and foremost, the Home Alone film’s success is recognized by its four sequels and many of the scenes can argue to be sentimentally. When the audience sees the famous scene from the movie recreated in the commercial, it automatically brings back childhood memories. In the academic journal The Effects of Aging on Nostalgia in Consumers’ Advertisement Processing, the author mentions that “nostalgic triggers can influence feelings, cognitive processes, and behaviors” (Holbrook & Schindler, 2003; Wildschut, Sedikides, Ardnt, & Routledge, 2006, as cited in Takashi Kusumi, 3). In this quote, he discusses that nostalgic triggers play an important psychological role in the human brain, which in turn influences the effectiveness of an advertisement. In this case, when the viewer watches the Google Assistant ad, it guides them back to the energy of the 20th century when the film was released back in 1990. Google simulated a similar setting in the ad by decorating the house with the same decorations as seen in the movie. And further with the recreation of an iconic scene in which Kevin tells the pizza man “Keep the change, you filthy animal” (YouTube). With that being said, these components all merge to remind the viewer of his or her youth, of joy from holiday seasons; and most importantly, how great Christmas can be.
Although the advert brought nostalgia from the audience, we cannot forget the appearance of actor -- Macaulay Culkin, who plays his role as adult Kevin McCallister in the commercial. If Google had another actor play this role instead of Culkin, then the entire advert would not be the same. Instead of the received positive feedbacks, the company might face negative criticisms, which in turn would go against the goal – to promote Google Assistant products. In fact, countless viewers on YouTube are glad to see Culkin in this ad, as comments say, “I feel so nostalgic and warm seeing ‘Kevin’ as an adult” and “I really can’t say how happy it makes me see Kevin finally eat that mac and cheese” (YouTube). Besides, researchers have also studied the positive effects in an advertisement when companies use celebrities. Dr. Josefa D. Martin-Santana, who researches magazine advertising, argues that “advertisements using celebrities obtain more positive evaluations than ads using other endorsers” (Atkin & Block, as cited in Martin-Santana & Beerli-Palacio, 141). That is to say, the use of celebrities in advertisement brings in more attention from the audience compared to the use of other endorsers, such as paid actors, or random participants. And of course, this attention will help market and promote the sale of the advertised products. In this Google advert, Kevin’s image conveys credibility and trustworthy because he is an adored movie character. Either way, what attracts the audience is the fact it is not just anyone using the product for a simple demonstration, but Kevin, who uses it to carry out his risky operation against the burglars.
Given the components discussed in the advert, the main goal for Google is influencing and convincing the viewer to purchase Google Assistant-enabled products. Hoping the viewer associates himself or herself with the ad and finds a purpose to buy and use the virtual assistant. As Google says, “Even Kevin McCallister needs a little help,” persuading the consumer that there is no shame in acquiring a virtual assistant as this purchase will help, he or she to combat the day and to reduce stress along the way (YouTube).
In summary, many technology advertisements fail to make a memorable impression to the consumers, but this advert did otherwise. It shows a modern version of the Home Alone movie, where adult Kevin McCallister is home alone, but this time his operation to defeat his enemies is carried out with the help of Google Assistant-enabled devices. The ad appeals to the emotions of the viewer by generating a feeling of nostalgia and taps into the memories of the viewer. From the remake of the famous scenes to the almost-exact setups and detailed decorations of the house, these all blend to create the viral Christmas commercial that made millions of people smile. This goes to show there is a connection between the media culture and the field of modern technology and innovation in the advertising and consumerism world.
Google. “Home Alone Again with the Google Assistant.” YouTube, YouTube, 19 Dec. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKYABI-dGEA.
KUSUMI, TAKASHI, et al. “The Effects of Aging on Nostalgia in Consumers’ Advertisement Processing.” Japanese Psychological Research, vol. 52, no. 3, Sept. 2010, pp. 150–162. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1468-5884.2010.00431.x.
Martín-Santana, Josefa D., and Asunción Beerli-Palacio. “Magazine Advertising: Factors Influencing the Effectiveness of Celebrity Advertising.” Journal of Promotion Management, vol. 19, no. 2, Apr. 2013, pp. 139–166. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10496491.2013.769471.
Yang Lai Fong, et al. “The Impact of Tourism Advertisement Promotional Videos on Young Adults.” E-BANGI Journal, vol. 12, no. 3, Sept. 2017, pp. 1–16. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=128661128&site=ehost-live.