Google To Deliver "More Interesting" Ads
Last week, Google launched a new advertising initiative that could make the ads you see on the Web more relevant, a little scarier or both.
In a post titled "Making Ads More Interesting," the Web firm announced that it would make a non-trivial shift in the way it presents ads online. Instead of simply finding an ad from its inventory that matches what you're reading right now -- say, an ad for hotels when you search for lodging in a particular city, or a blurb for some electronics retailer's HDTV sale when you're reading a review of a new high-def LCD -- Google will try to find ads that match your interests over time, as recorded by Google using a cookie file saved to your computer.
Today we are launching "interest-based" advertising as a beta test on our partner sites and on YouTube. These ads will associate categories of interest -- say sports, gardening, cars, pets -- with your browser, based on the types of sites you visit and the pages you view. We may then use those interest categories to show you more relevant text and display ads.
When you say "interest-based advertising," it's easy to think that the Google hive mind will now know everything about your activities online. That's not the case, as a "how it works" article (which should have been linked to from that "Making Ads More Interesting" post) explains:
* This tracking doesn't store your name or e-mail; you are only a number.
* It's only tied to one computer.
* It's easy to opt out of this entirely by trashing your browser's cookie file.
But Google is also allowing users to see the information Google has collected about their interests, then edit it -- which is something I've never seen an advertiser offer before. You can visit its ad-preferences page and see exactly what topics Google thinks you care about. At this page, you can also opt your computer out of this program permanently.
To judge from what this page displays on my own computer at home, I remain a cypher to Google: "No interest categories are associated with your ads preferences so far." What shows up on your screen?
(I realize that, since your reply will feature your washingtonpost.com user ID, I'm asking you to cough up what could be all sorts of salacious details. So just say that you saw all this info on your coworker's computer or your boss's machine, and we'll all agree to believe each other about that.)
Until I see what sort of profile Google has built of my interests -- there are a few other computers I have to check -- I'm not quite sure what to think. Boringly irrelevant ads don't do anything for me. Nor do those that are annoyingly irrelevant, like the ads for dating services I've seen on the MySpace page on which I list myself as married. I will, however, gladly pay attention to an ad that's clever and entertaining.
And, last I checked, my employer and many others publishing content on the Web could use some extra advertising revenue these days. (Note that today, the navigation banner atop our home page appears in gold, as part of some deal our ad-sales folks cooked up with a phone-book site.)
Google doesn't have the cleanest record. It can be pushy and intrusive; it would be a mistake to take its high-minded explanations on faith. But other ad efforts could be considerably less appealing. For example, are you prepared to see bigger banner ads that occupy a quarter of a third of a page, then stay in your view as you scroll down?
So you tell me: How obnoxious would an ad have to be for you to stop visiting the site hosting it? What if it was a site that you wanted to see stay in business?
March 16, 2009; 12:12 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture , The Web
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