The New Gmail Turns Old Ads Into Spam Emails

Search Giant Reducing Overall Number of Inbox Ads

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Google announced a redesign of Gmail in late May that introduced a tabbed layout with categories like "primary," "social" and "promotions." Curiously absent was any discussion of the ads, a feature of the service for years and targeted via the content in your inbox.

Over the last week as the redesign's roll-out expanded, some people have seen fewer ads in their inbox while others have noticed newer ones styled as emails in the new "promotions" tab added to house marketing messages like daily deals emails and brand newsletters. Neither is an illusion.

Screenshot of Gmail's new inbox ads
Screenshot of Gmail's new inbox ads

Google has introduced new ads to Gmail that can be best described as "sponsored emails." Aside from the fact that the ads are marked as such and colored differently from regular Gmail messages (similar to how Google distinguishes some search ads), the aesthetic of these ads -- which only appear in the "promotions" tab -- differ little from standard emails and function similarly, allowing users to store them for later or forward to others.

In other words, those text ads that seemed to know what you're writing and reading have turned into email that sits atop of all others under the "promotions" tab.

The new inbox ads could be considered Gmail's version of Facebook's "Sponsored Stories" or Twitter's "Promoted Tweets." One might even dub them "native" -- though others have described them as "spammy," "intrusive" and "terrible."

The ads -- spotted a month ago -- replace the ones that were pegged atop the Gmail inbox under the old design, said a Google spokesperson. If users have disabled the promotions tab (a way to turn off the new ads), then the ad running atop the regular inbox, now dubbed "primary," will return.

A Google spokesperson said the ads aren't exactly the same as emails because they don't take up inbox storage and aren't deleted like messages. For the most part, the new ads act like normal inbox ads. When people click the ads, they will either be directed to an advertiser's landing page or the ad will expand within Gmail and display some sort of visual graphic like what might otherwise run in a marketer's email. The latter functionality has been around for at least a year through the regular Gmail ad types, the spokesperson said.

However, unlike other Gmail ads people can store these new ads in the inbox's "starred" folder or forward them to others by creating a new email message that embeds the ad.

The new ad placements are being offered in a limited sign-up that advertisers can request to join through their Google account managers.

While Google has added new types of ads in Gmail, the company that derived 86% of its $14.1 billion in second-quarter revenue from advertising has actually reduced the overall number of ads displayed in users' inboxes. The spokesperson said that Gmail users are seeing fewer ads overall because Google raised the quality threshold for Gmail ads in launching the new inbox, one way of saying the old ads weren't working very well.

Given the reaction to Google's first iteration of Gmail ads, which caused a privacy frenzy due to the fact they are targeted with information mined from email, response to the new Gmail ads has been relatively muted.

Microsoft may count the reduction news as a win for its "Scroogled" campaign that criticized Google for running ads targeted according to users' emails (a practice Microsoft ad partner Yahoo has also adopted). However the Google spokesperson said the changes are not in response to Microsoft's criticisms.

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