The future of advertising

February 22, 2009 / Google is doing it’s part to integrate consumption ever more tidily into our online activities. But you knew that, right?

Google VP Vint Cerf, speaking recently at a search marketing conference (my emphasis):

“What Google has learned about advertising is that people don’t treat information as annoying advertising if they’re actually interested in the information,” Cerf said. […] “What would happen if we can sensitize an image so that if you were interested in it, you could click on it?” he asked. Taking this theoretical idea further, he continued: “Maybe stop the video entertainment at that point; a window opens up and says: ‘Hi I see that you’re interested in this little Macintosh that’s in the field of view; that’s the MacBook Pro. Oh, I see you’re online right now, there is an Apple store which is six blocks away that has six of these in inventory; would you like to buy this one right here?’”

Clever. After the whole web search thing, helping its users to see advertising as “information” must number among Google’s greatest triumphs. This is similar to the reframing of petroleum as energy that has been the focus of oil company advertising in recent years:

Changing the Signified
Signifier Old Signified New Signified
Oil company logo gasoline energy
Web site advertisement sales pitch information

I expect a lot of money will be spent on this idea. It would more fully accomplish what advertisers have been striving towards for a long time now: integration of brand and purchase opportunities with video consumption. It’s also much more in step with the nature of hypertext—fewer interstitial ads, and presumably less uncontrolled interruption, and a lot more links.

The more relevant Google can make its ads to users, the harder it becomes to challenge the consumption rhetoric because people experience them as helpers rather than interruptions. At the moment Google increases relevance by, amongst other things, scanning your Gmail traffic for keywords—digging into your user data. Ads as sensitised regions of a video track, however, would reach an audience that has self-selected the consumption context. It’s worth remembering that you tell Google a lot about yourself when you use their stuff. But hey, they’re here to help, right!

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