Predictive Search Says So Much

Because I’m old and have been doing this digital thing for a while, I remember the game we played in the early days of Google; entering your name and ‘is’ into the search box and listing the first lines of the first ten results.  I vaguely recall that one of mine was “Jon is awesome”, which gave me a lot to live up to.

Nowadays we can play the same game without needing to hit the ‘Search’ button, courtesy of predictive search.  In user experience terms, seeing what others have searched, and being able to go straight there without typing the whole phrase is a handy timesaver.

I assume I’m not the only one who occasionally looks at what the algorithm is throwing up and raises an eyebrow.  I was searching for ‘cloud hosting’ recently and was offered ‘cloudhopper’, which took me off into an entirely different area*.

Predictive search also offers a telling look at what’s going on in the collective consciousness, as the Dubai branch of Ogilvy & Mather realised when putting together a campaign for UN Women (the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women).

The campaign, which shows a series of women ‘gagged’ by the predictive search box, highlight the kind of terms which are common enough to appear in predictions to complete phrases like “women should…” and “women need to…”.

UN Women Ad Image

I wish I could say I was shocked by the attitudes the campaign displays, but I doubt anyone who spends as much time online as I do could be surprised by much in the way of human attitudes.

I love the campaign though – using current technology to highlight deeply ingrained attitudes, with the strong visual to provide impact works for me.


* It’s a one-person hot-air balloon.  No basket, you just hang off the balloon with a burner on your back.  It sounds awesome.

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