Google's Latest Ad Is a Tear-Jerker (VIDEO)

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 15 2013 3:26 PM

Google's Latest Ad Has a Terrible Political Backstory

Google’s ability to tug at our heartstrings with its ads almost parallels its ability to harvest all of our online data to sell to advertisers. So naturally, the company’s latest ad—which targets Google’s ever-growing Indian user base—is a tear-jerker. It’s already racked up almost 2 million views. In the ad, the elderly Baldev reminisces to his granddaughter about flying kites with his childhood friend, Yusuf, before they were separated by political strife. I won’t spoil the video’s ending, but you should just watch it:

I admittedly didn’t know very much about Partition before watching the ad, but I still teared up. (What can I say, I’m a sucker for reunion narratives.) But the story of Yusuf and Baldev has a very real historical backdrop: the Pakistan-India partition, which was erected in 1947 as the British colonial rule was ending. Many Hindus and Sikhs were forced to move to India from Pakistan, while Muslims moved from India to Pakistan. All told, roughly 14.5 million people were forced to resettle across the border.

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Google has done less politically charged ads like this before, like “Parisian Love,” which aired during the Super Bowl in 2010. It also recently honored Shakuntala Devi, the Indian child prodigy known for her ability to mentally calculate complicated arithmetic, with a Google Doodle celebrating her birthday, and highlighted how a man adopted from India as a young child was able to use Google Earth to find his birthplace 26 years later. But as the AP rightfully points out, this new ad’s sentimentality stands in stark contrast to the very real tragedy of Partition:

It might seem a risky strategy to co-opt partition for a feel-good search engine advertisement. The period is one of the roots of the bitter animosity between Pakistan and India that has led to three wars, a nuclear arms race and deadly fighting in the disputed Kashmir region. Shortly after the partition, an estimated 1 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were killed in rioting, and 12 million were uprooted from their homes.

Not to be too cheeky, but one can’t help but imagine what ad Google will air next: an Iron Curtain-themed story of unrequited love? A nostalgic tale about the fall of the Berlin Wall, a la Goodbye, Lenin? Next up: the story of one brother’s dangerous trek across the DMZ, aided only by the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button.

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Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.