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Google pulls an Apple-Like Media Coup

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Bias in the media is inevitable, and any news gatherer who denies this fact is a liar. Companies seek favor or to influence in countless ways. It’s the nature of the beast, which cannot be tamed. So I wonder how Chromebook Pixel embargoes impacted reporting about Apple’s newest laptop. If they did, as I’m convinced, Google pulled off one hell of a marketing coup.

The search and information giant provided many tech blogs and news sites with the new Pixel about a week before the laptop launched yesterday and the first reviews posted—that was also days before Apple’s well-publicized media event where a new MacBook was rumored. Both computers share something in common: USB Type-C, which is bleeding-edge tech. The connector received much media attention on Monday and Tuesday two ways: Buzz about it being the next great thing, and MacBook having but one port (Pixel has two, and others). 

They say timing is everything, right? You have Pixels in newsrooms ahead of Apple’s big event, followed by official launch on the other side after the larger cycle of news subsided. Coincidence it’s not.

If you think someone at Google didn’t know about the new MacBook’s single USB-C port, or other features, you’re living in lala land. Or even that the laptop would be one of this week’s marque announcements. Ignore all the surreptitious ways the master of Internet search might gather information. Apple and Google share suppliers, and there are more than enough means to gather intelligence on a competitor’s future products.

Companies like Apple and Google know: There is influence in what writers know. Agreeing to an embargo is one thing. Ignoring the knowledge is another. Think of the courtroom where the judge instructs the jury to ignore key evidence later thrown out on a technicality. How easily can it really be ignored?

In the Biblical allegory, Eve ate the apple, and once her eyes opened she couldn’t close them. Or looked at differently: News gatherers’ knowledge affected response to Apple. Embargoes typically apply to an entire media organization, and reporters and reviewers do talk. Even if the person reviewing Pixel isn’t the same one reporting about Apple, knowledge will pass.

I was surprised to see so much attention given to both topics related to USB-C. The single-port controversy is overblown, but the media reaction makes more sense in context. Bloggers or journalists know something they can’t formally write about: Chromebook Pixel. But they know there are two USB-C ports (and others) on the one computer and that both Apple and Google are committed to advancing the standard.

Google didn’t contact me about the new Chromebook, or provide one for review, and I had no other advance knowledge about yesterday’s launch. I puzzled about the tone of second-day news stories before the new Pixel’s unveiling, but lacked context for understanding it. Now I do.

I make no accusations. From another perspective, news gatherers would be negligent for not taking into account knowledge they have, while nevertheless honoring agreements not to directly disclose product information before an agreed date.

If Google purposely timed Pixel embargoes and launch timing, the company likely succeeded in diminishing Apple’s big news and took some control of the narrative. Brilliant! Good marketing is as much about commanding influence as promotion—as evidenced by Apple’s longstanding practice of using a select group of favorably-minded reviewers. The other lesson: Trust nothing you read on the Internet, because bias is unavoidable and influence is everywhere.

Photo Credit: Ana Belén Ramón

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears on BetaNews.

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