While not the first to introduce interactive ads whose marketing messages can change in real time, Google is touting the value of this kind of rich-media experience coupled with the contextual targeting capabilities of its AdSense network.
Christian Oestlien, a business product manager at Google, described the ads as a "website within a website" and said the company has already beta-tested the new units with two dozen U.S. advertisers and as many as 50 globally.
Buying a 'viral' distribution
The ad units are interesting in themselves -- the great thing about widgets is that they're a rich, customizable interactive experience that can travel across the web virally. Normally, viral distribution is far from guaranteed, making widgets a risky bet. But what makes the ad units compelling is that marketers who create widgets can now buy their way to distribution through AdSense.
In Google's Manhattan office, Mr. Oestlien demonstrated several of the units, including one created by agency RPA for the Honda Civic. The widget allowed users to ask questions of the band Fall Out Boy, which the band then answered via video. The unit's content was continuously updated with new questions and answers. People could also choose to share the widgets and add them to their iGoogle pages as well.
New York-based agency Deep Focus also participated in the test with an ad for the film "Kickin' It Old School." It tracked the flash-based widget through DoubleClick's Dart, the ad-serving system the agency uses, and at a more granular level, tracked what people did after viewing the unit, using Google Analytics.
"The easy part was creating a gadget that appeared on the iGoogle home page," said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus. "The bonus is that it also ran as an ad."
Pepsi tested the program for Sierra Mist. It had partnered with YouTube on a marketing program called Sketchies, for which it had made-for-internet video it wanted to distribute. It used the new ad units to distribute that video to AdSense sites in the comedy genre. John Vail, director-interactive marketing at Pepsi-Cola North America, said it came at a good time because the marketer had a piece of content specifically created for the web that needed distribution. "It was opportunistic timing-wise," he said.
Advertisers need to use Google's gadget framework to distribute the units via AdSense and they're limited to sites on Google's network that allow rich media ads. While AdSense includes sites as large as NYTimes.com, many of those larger sites only use AdSense's text ads.
Separately yesterday, Google had hired Andy Berndt, co-president of Ogilvy & Mather, New York, to run new global unit that would act as Google's in-house ad agency as well as work with agencies to help them understand how they could use Google's tools more creatively for clients. Between that new division and the introduction of rich ad units, it's clear Google is making a major play for brand marketer dollars.
"Google over the past 12 months has become more of a player in terms of getting brand advertising dollars," Mr. Schafer said. "Before this and YouTube, its big sell was a premium AdSense network, which was really content targeting. Up until this, it's 'What's the difference between Google [AdSense] and any other ad network I might advertise on?'"