Google’s Gemini Marketing Trick

The world saw a jaw-dropping demo of Gemini this week. It just wasn’t the real deal.

AI-generated image by Midjourney/Big Technology

Google really didn’t have to exaggerate. When the company introduced Gemini this week — its stunning new AI model that beat OpenAI on multiple benchmarks and understands both text and images — it delivered a product that lived up to months of hype. Yet, as the company showed it to the world, it embellished.

In a viral video demonstrating Gemini’s capabilities, Google took significant artistic license. It showed a user speaking with Gemini, but it was actually representing a text conversation. It showed a moving video, but was feeding Gemini still images. It showed fast responses, but sped those up. It showed tight model outputs, but shortened them “for brevity.” It showed brief prompts eliciting terrific answers, but listed longer prompts in a blog post.

Exaggerating in tech demos isn’t novel, but Google’s Gemini video felt different. As it circulated among developers and industry watchers this week, the sentiment was near universal: Google, whose research made the generative AI era possible, was pressing.

“It’s a little bit shocking that Google, the undisputed pioneer in generative AI, would feel it necessary to juice the results of their demo just to try and one up Microsoft/OpenAI,” said Malcolm Ethridge, an executive vice president at CIC Wealth. “But it also speaks to just how important it is to be seen as a legitimate competitor — let alone be the eventual winner of this arms race in AI.”

Google’s had a weird year. Microsoft used technology it developed  — the transformer model — to build a marquee offering with OpenAI. Meta used it to build credibility in the open-source AI movement. NVIDIA used it to add more than $500 billion to its market cap. All these efforts threaten Google’s long-term dominance in search. 

Gemini, arriving on the heels of OpenAI’s chaos, was Google’s long-awaited answer. But the pressure to deliver something revolutionary seemed to build, and its marketing lost touch with reality. The unforced error spoke loudly.

Google made the video to “inspire developers,” said Oriol Vinyals, a Deepmind vice president. But it may have had the opposite effect for some. Developers on the tech forum Hacker News kept the video on its front page throughout Thursday, and were not happy about it. “I was fooled,” wrote one user. “It’s one thing to release a hype video with what-ifs and quite another to claim that your new multi-modal model is king of the hill then game all the benchmarks and fake all the demos.”

Vinyals said the prompts and outputs in the video were real, with some shortened. And he posted a video that showed some of the brief prompts working exactly like the longer, more detailed ones in the blog post. But his response didn’t seem to satisfy the masses. “Ah, the age-old art of deceptive demos,” said IBM Fellow Grady Booch, quoting Vinyals. “Dear Google: you should have made this abundantly clear.”

Gemini remains an impressive product. While it won’t roll out fully until next year, it’ll have an advantage serving customers on Google Cloud Platform, many of whom already have their data in the service, as Margins’ Ranjan Roy said in Wednesday’s edition of The Panel. For Google, it’s good to finally have Gemini in the wild. 

As for the marketing, while it flopped with developers and the company’s closest watchers, one important constituency seems to have bought in. Alphabet stock jumped 5% following the announcement.

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