Google Splashes Out on Super Bowl Ad Focusing on Language


Genevieve Finn reports on the tech giant’s moves in machine translation and interpretation

Google is banking on its interpreter taking off

Google used one of its two valuable Super Bowl ad spots to show how Google Translate can help bring people together. According to CNBC, a Super Bowl LIII 30-second ad spot cost $5.25 million this year, so, with the minute-long advertisement, Google is investing heavily in its new, improved service.

According to Google, its service can translate dozens of languages via photo, video, audio, and manual typing. At last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the company revealed a new feature in Google Assistant, called Interpreter Mode, which turns the virtual assistant into a real-time language translator between two people who are trying to converse in the same place.

The new feature was demonstrated to the press hours before the CES show officially opened. In the demo, a concierge at Caesar’s Palace Hotel, one of the early beta testers of the feature, was approached by a “German tourist” and asked about show tickets in German. The concierge turned to a Google Home Hub and, using voice, prompted the Assistant to go into German interpreter mode. The concierge and guest had a conversation, with the Assistant translating, and tickets were found.

The Super Bowl ad consisted of several short clips that showed Google Translate doing just that—translating, while a narrator proclaimed, “More than 100 billion words are translated every day.”

“Words about food, words about friendship, about sport, about belief, about fear,” the narrator said, over videos of women laughing in a coffee shop and men celebrating a soccer goal in a sports bar.

“Words that can hurt, and sometimes divide,” the narrator continued as a video of the words “GET OUT” spray painted on a brick wall played. “But every day, the most translated words in the world are: ‘How are you?,’ ‘Thank you,’ and ‘I love you,’” he finished. The final shot featured two men holding hands and hugging under an umbrella while looking out over a foggy, green vista.

Google’s message rings against the backdrop of political polarity and accusations of “fake news.” The idea that people use language to express love more than they use it to express hate is a heartwarming appeal to forget differences and forgive. It is particularly relevant given the link between how Google’s search engine directs internet traffic and the escalation of divisive rhetoric.

The advertisement also marks the uptick in the need for quick translation services in an increasingly globalized world. The ad showed how Google Translate can be integrated into daily life through mobile phones with ease. Though this may be troubling to some, the advertisement presented the idea that marrying language and technology is not only possible, but positive.