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September 18, 2007

Google Launches Gadget Ads

As mentioned earlier this year, Google tested a new ad format that uses gadgets to display interactive content. The gadget ads are now officially launched and available for many (but not yet all) AdWords advertisers. "The new widget ads represent a more aggressive push by Google to attract big brand advertisers who like flashy ad units rather than the simple text ads commonly run in Google's ad network," reports The New York Times.

The main benefits of the new format: it's easy to create a gadget using Google's API, the gadget can be stored and/or cached on Google's severs and people can add the gadgets they like to Google's personalized homepage. "Gadget ads can incorporate real-time data feeds, images, video and much more in a single creative unit and can be developed using Flash, HTML or a combination of both. Designed to act more like content than a typical ad, they run on the Google content network, competing alongside text, image and video ads for placement," says Google (my emphasis).

Because most of the normal gadgets can be embedded into a web page and many people already use iGoogle, the gadget ad will be a familiar presence. "Google Gadget Ads are nearly identical to Google Gadgets, except that they run as rich media ads on the Google content network. By adding a small bit of code called a click URL to your Google Gadget, the gadget becomes a Google Gadget Ad, capable of running as an ad on thousands of content network sites. Otherwise, the two can be identical in their basic construction and content." This way, Google also solved the problem of monetizing iGoogle in a clever way: users will voluntary add gadget ads to the homepage and interact with them. The ads won't be perceived as annoying because you chose to include them in your homepage. "Widgets are a dream for marketers. They allow them to extend their brand off of their individual sites and allow their brands to live as long as consumers want them to live," thinks Dimitry Ioffe, chief executive of Media Banners.

Here's an ad for Nissan that lets you see information about traffic from Google Maps (example of US zip code: 90210). There's also an option to explore the car and a link to Nissan's web site, but the gadget is attractive because it's useful:



The gadgets can be contextually targeted or site targeted, but you won't find too many of them right now. Unfortunately, Google doesn't offer granular options for publishers, so if you choose to display image ads, you'll also get video ads, Flash ads and now gadget ads. Because advertising agencies can add anything from Flash animations to mini-websites created with AJAX, some of the ads could be obtrusive. If you look at the samples offered by Google, some of the ads show an animation for 10-15 seconds to attract your attention, while others are static until you interact with them. Here are some quotes from Google's editorial guidelines:
* Audio and video effects are allowed, but must be user-initiated.
* Users must have the ability to 'mute' all sounds in the ad, if applicable.
* Google Gadget Ads that contain Flash must not exceed 50% utilization of a user's computer.
* Gadget ads that directly capture any personally identifiable user information must have an applicable privacy policy which is directly accessible from the gadget ad.
* Animation is restricted to a maximum of 15 seconds (at a 15-20 fps frame rate).
* The ads must be 50K or smaller in size "on load".

I think a successful gadget ad should include useful content so you could use it as a stand-alone mini-application. It should include animations only if they're necessary and not just as a distraction. LabPixies is one of the companies that creates cool gadgets for all kinds of companies. "Gadgets are easy to install and easy to use, with no technical knowledge necessary, so they work very well as a distribution platform. Gadgets are the next generation of content syndication," says Ran Ben-Yair, co-founder of LabPixies.

"Gadget ads provide new mixed media interactions across Google's AdSense network. A Starbucks ad unit could display a web feed of the latest 5 tracks playing in its stores, query the local weather and suggest either an iced or hot drink, display local stores on a Google Map, and help you browse seasonal offerings from within a single ad unit. Google serves all of the content via proxy, and the rich media load never touches Starbucks' servers," thinks Niall Kennedy, who also found a directory of branded Google gadgets.

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