Google Maps Gets an Ad Unit: Your Logo Here

Search Giant Says Algorithm Will Keep Logos From Getting Spammy

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- After a six-month tryout in Australia and New Zealand, Google is bringing sponsored map icons to the U.S., allowing companies to pay for their logos to show up directly on Google maps, indicating the location of their business.

A Google map showing the location of an HSBC branch with the bank's logo as a marker.
A Google map showing the location of an HSBC branch with the bank's logo as a marker.
Like everything Google does, the program starts in beta, this time with four advertisers representative of the type the search giant believes will want to advertise their physical locations: Bank of America, Target , Public Storage and HSBC. Logos will start appearing on Google Maps today, and on mobile phones in the coming weeks.

Once the program is expanded, any business will be able to buy its logo on Google Maps, which sounds like it could get cluttered fast, except that Google promises that algorithms will anticipate what consumers are looking for and place logos accordingly, without letting them pile up.

"Advertisers can't pay to increase their prominence or whether or not they appear on the map," said product manager Matt Leske by phone from Sydney. "We look at the way people search for that business online and we look at what area people are looking at and what zoom level."

When displayed, the logos will replace the generic gray icons that indicate the type of establishments on the map. Google declined to discuss pricing of the feature except that would be on a cost-per-thousand model and that advertisers would only pay if their logo was displayed.

Google won't be the first to add business logos to maps; AOL's Mapquest has been running a program with Comfort Inn, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn since 2009 but those logos aren't automatically displayed. The user can elect to see the logos by clicking on the side.

Since the beta is only open to four businesses, there is no fear right now of Google Maps being overrun with logos. But, Mr. Leske said, the idea will be to make Google Maps more -- and not less -- useful. "Even in the future, lets say 70% of the businesses participated in the program, ultimately, the maps must be useful, so very much all of the determination about how many logos to show in a particular place -- we would be very conservative with that."

Mr. Leske insisted that the presence of logos on maps will actually be helpful for people even if they aren't shopping. "For example, you can just tell your friend to meet you across the street from the bank since you will be able to see the bank's logo on the map," he said, adding that the recognizable and familiar brand logo will be easier to visually remember than already existing gray business markers.

The featured proved to be a business pleaser Down Under, where National Australia Bank, McDonalds, Bankwest, JB Hi-Fi Electronics, LJ Hooker Real Estate, Chemist Warehouse Pharmacy, Fitness First Gym and BP gas stations participated in the beta.

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