Google, Publishers to Try New Advertising Methods
Internet advertising needs a boost, according to several media companies, and efforts are underway to change how ads are displayed and marketed to make them more relevant.
Google, which grew to become the number one search engine with the help of its search-based ads, is beta testing "interest-based advertising" on YouTube and partner sites that would display ads in specific categories based on users' interests. The behavioral method requires information gathered through browser cookies, and Google acknowledged in a blog post that its new effort would lead to privacy concerns.
"This kind of tailored advertising does raise questions about user choice and privacy—questions the whole online ad industry has a responsibility to answer," wrote Susan Wojcicki, Google's vice president for product management. "Many companies already provide interest-based advertising and they address these issues in different ways. For our part, we're launching interest-based advertising with three important features that demonstrate our commitment to transparency and user choice."
Those features include a user tool called the Ads Preference Manager that lets visitors choose and delete categories of targeted ads and a plug-in that lets users opt out of the program.
"Keyword advertising has been so successful because it's useful to users, advertisers and publishers—everyone's interests are aligned," Wojcicki said. "We believe that interest-based ads will create the same virtuous cycle, by giving users more relevant ads, while generating higher returns for advertisers and publishers."
Privacy advocates were encouraged by Google's commitment to transparency but reacted to the announcement with reservation. "We need strong assurances about the types of information that are collected by Google, and how these are shared," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. "In the absence of concrete guarantees we doubt any claims that your future health problems, sexuality, financial problems and erectile dysfunction won't be open for Google to collect."
In a BBC article, a Google spokesman denied that sensitive information would be gathered by its cookies.
Others simply viewed the move as Google's attempt to make more money by turning its users into salable information. According to Wired, the company signaled it would expand its targeted advertising when it acquired DoubleClick in March 2008, enabling it to gather a greater amount of information.
"Inevitably, Google will soon build ways to combine all the data it knows about you in order to sell you to advertisers for a higher price," Wired's Ryan Singel wrote. "That is making you useful."
Advertising that is more relevant to users could ultimately prove welcome as companies try to devour more design space in an effort to attract attention. A few days before Google's announcement, the Online Publishers Association announced an initiative to roll out different types of display advertising that would be more effective than banner ads, which most users ignore, according to studies. The ideas are all aimed at providing ways to make ads bigger and more interesting.
They include fixed panels that appear embedded in page layouts but remain visible as users scroll down, XXL boxes that have page-turning and video functions, and pushdowns that open up large half-page ads before rolling into the top of the page.
Twenty-seven large publishers, including CNN, The New York Times, and MSNBC, are expected to display the new ads beginning in July.
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