Google's latest Doodle marks the 200th birthday of British novelist Charles Dickens but also marks the first time that the company has used their logo change to specifically promote a product or service. In this case, when you click on the search term you are taken directly to a search on Google Books in which the top 'natural' results, including the ad, offer a free Google ebook.
Today's Doodle references characters from a number of Dickens' most loved works. So far we (thanks Thom & Frank) have managed to spot who we think to be Little Dorrit (in the first O) from the book of the same name, Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim (in the second O) from A Christmas Carol, and Oliver and the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist (leaning against the lamp post that forms the L). We are not entirely sure who the couple is in the second G but our best guess is that it is a grown up Pip hoping to court Estella from Great Expectations because very faintly above Little Dorrit is an elderly lady who could be Miss Havisham who seems to be keeping a beady eye on Estella (which corresponds to a core theme of the book). We can only speculate as to whether the scene in the first G references John Harmon and Bella Wilfer (in the background) from Our Mutual Friend and if the characters in the E are Mr Gradgrind and his daughter Louisa from Hard Times.
Google's Doodles drive stupendous amounts of traffic as users click on the logo to discover what they are about. The numbers we have seen on Search Engine Watch are akin to those we have seen for breaking news stories around a global event or a national emergency. While, that latter comparison might be in poor taste, it gives you a sense of just how effective this simple change in Google's logo is in rallying the web around a single idea.
So, with that in mind, this is a huge promotional opportunity for the revamped Google Books service. Clearly Google is aware of the opportunity as, also for the first time, a single AdWords ad for Google Books on Android Market appears to be timed with the Doodle by using creative which directly references the author's birthday.
This is the first time we have seen a Google Doodle used to promote Google Books and it's the first time a Doodle has had a promotional offer attached to it. Normally the click leads to a general search query, rather than to a specific section of Google's results. Previously when Google promotes it's own services, they have used homepage links to promote specific Google events such as the Google+ hangout the Black Eyed Peas.
One has to wonder if today's Doodle is the beginning of a trend for Google to showcase many more of their products.
Also, given that they will have access to the conversion data, the idea that Google might eventually sell the massive reach that a unique Doodle design can offer brands may no longer be out of the question.
Update: Google offers a "behind the scenes" look at the Dickens Doodle on the Inside Google Books blog.