“Don’t Be Evil.” The most memorable branding Google ever did was to announce what it wouldn’t do. That’s not how most companies express themselves. But as the world learned Google was/is not most companies. Synonymous with search, Google nevertheless carved out an identity that had little to do with its function, which grew and morphed to encompass enterprises far beyond “organizing the world’s information.” That identity was expressed in its simple, comforting motto, “Don’t Be Evil.” In its early days, the motto was something of a direct shot at Microsoft — the “evil empire” of computing. But “Don’t Be Evil” swiftly outgrew its Microsoft-targeted roots and became a guiding principal for the idea of developing a new, transparent, information-rich world of connected citizens for the 21st century.
In Google’s first Founders Letter eleven years ago, cofounders Larry Page and Sergei Brin emphasized the “Don’t Be Evil” aspect of their unique company, saying Google would be “a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gain.” They even headlined a section of the letter DON’T BE EVIL, explaining its importance. In the 2015 announcement that Google would now be part of a larger holding company called Alphabet, Page references that earlier letter. But nowhere in the new letter does he mention evil or the new company’s desire not to commit any. Maybe it’s assumed, but Page is so thorough by habit. Leaving it out was no accident.