So you create a search engine with a very basic all-text look. Then you make a fortune out of ads that look just like your search results.
But then you buy YouTube. That's where the problems start.
Because, well, the stuff on YouTube moves. You don't really have too much experience with moving stuff. You've never even bothered about ads for your own brand, moving or not. And, put kindly, you've never had that much of a design aesthetic.
Such is Google's dilemma which is being played out all too clearly in some of its experiments with ads on YouTube.
The formula that appears to have gained most visibility is the one in which a standard square display ad is the immovable object to the right of the video. Then, just as the fifteenth second of the video is past, a fifteen-second long animation appears in the lower portion of the video area.
The thing is, the animation and the display ad are both advertising the same thing. They use the same elements, as if the site were given a little cut and paste kit from which to make everything.
In my most recent wafting through YouTube's labyrinth, every music video I saw was linked to a promotion for Las Vegas. Every music video that had been legally uploaded by a music company, that is. (Examples were Nelly and Fergie's 'Party People', Rehab's 'Bartender Song' and V.I.C's 'Wobble'.)
In addition, The Young Turks' political commentary was graced by moving appeals from the U.S Olympic team. While the Onion News Network was festooned with encouragements to watch the Discovery Channel's 'Mythbusters.'.
What is strange about these ads is that Google isn't really testing whether the films can be interrupted by messages. It's testing whether the scrolling animation (which never reappears after the thirtieth second) plus the still version of it at the side can somehow cumulatively motivate.
In a medium where users don't want to see ads at all, this is a little like you telling your Mom that you won't eat greens, her response being to give you big green beans and small green beans.
It would truly be interesting to see whether animation standing alone below the film might have an effect. But it would have to be inventive, as well as relevant, animation.
This current two 'fer feels a little mechanical and, dare one say it, desperate.
Not half as desperate, however, as the delightful indigestion discovered by the New York Times' Saul Hansell.
Mr. Hansell sought respite on his favorite political blog, FiveThirtyEight.com, a site that might make some people reach for a little four-twenty, only to discover a YouTube player embedded at the bottom of the home page.
At the top of the player was an ad that looked remarkably like any other Google text ad- that very fetching blue and gray that says 'buy, buy, buy'. While at the bottom of the screen, there appeared periodically more text ads, in yellow and white type on a pretty rough dark overlay, that made the whole thing look as if it had been put together by a class that had just learned to draw. Or to see.
This was like going to see Arcade Fire play live, only to discover that Yanni would be whistling the best bits from 'Niki Nana' all through Arcade Fire's set.
Google's problem is not an easy one. It must balance consumer expectations (roughly described as 'leave me alone') with advertiser exigencies ('get me to these people in a way that they won't say 'I thought I told you to leave me alone.')
It really is all about a father finding a clever way to get himself invited into his teenager's private world.
But these ad experiments, both forced and, frankly, somewhat dated, do nothing to suggest that the company has any real solution.
As I have suggested before, Google should work with the best designers, writers and filmmakers around to create examples of brilliant, creative and successful advertising that fits perfectly with YouTube.
This would be a template for others (and, perhaps, for the Googlies themselves) to appreciate that success with ads on YouTube might not be, like ads on search, just another frightfully exciting math problem.