Image-based ads on Google? The horror…

According to a report in the New York Times, Google has decided — in part because of pressure from America Online — to experiment with graphical, image-based advertising on some of its pages. Although the early reports were that this would be restricted to ads for AOL content as part of the $1-billion deal between the two companies, the NYT says the ads will be open not just to AOL but to any advertiser.

John Battelle’s comment on this is a simple “My, my, my.” John also warned Google recently not to “jump the shark,” because of rumours that the company was going to give AOL content preferential treatment on its search pages — something Stuart MacDonald and I discussed a bit on the comments on this recent post.

As someone commented on John’s blog, this is going to be a “tricky balancing act” for Google to pull off. On the one hand, while it may irritate the purists who like the plain look of the company’s websites, as Danny Sullivan notes, graphical ads are a reality that we all put up with just about everywhere else, including our own blogs (unless you’re too puny to get advertising, like me).

At the same time, however, the more Google becomes like everyone else the more risk there is, since that uniqueness is arguably a big part of what makes people pay the astronomical sums they do for its stock. How will it handle the changes that its deal with AOL involves? And will it be worth it?

Tom Raftery says he hopes it’s just a trial balloon that will get shot down, and Cynthia over at IPDemocracy figures it’s only a matter of time before video starts showing up too. And then what — pop-ups? Henry Blodget at Internet Outsider thinks it’s inevitable, and so does Stuart MacDonald in the comments on this item.

Update:

Marissa Mayer has a note up at the official Google blog about the AOL deal and what it means. ‘Business partnerships will never compromise the integrity or objectivity of our search results,’ she says, and ‘there will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever.’ So apparently the motto ‘do no evil’ extends to evil advertising. But Danny says there is still some wiggle room for the company.

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