The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

In the world of Internet advertising, contextual ad placement has become the greatest thing since sliced bread. In hype terms, anyway. While companies like Google and Overture (soon to be acquired by Yahoo!) have made this ad format their bread-and-butter, there's increasing industry evidence that contextual ads aren't any more effective than the old static banner ads.

Frankly, I'm not overly shocked that something that Google has been trumpeting has turned out to be full of hot air. Google's entire business seems to be built on overhype, and the ceding of search techology by companies like Yahoo! that went into the ill-advised portal business in the late 90s.

The technology behind placing these ads is far from perfect, as the usual example of a luggage ad appearing alongside an airline crash so ablely demonstrates. Beyond that, the real problem is presentation: These ads tend to be boring little text boxes that blend into the background--in some ways, worse than the old banners. Who cares what the wording is in those boxes, if it just sits there?

The most effective ads for online are going to be Flash- and Java-based embedded ones. They're as obtrusive as pop-ups, but harder to get rid of.