Wednesday, November 28, 2007

RSS advertising -- Google Adsense vs... that other guy.

In the TechCrunch RSS feed, there's an ad. Go ahead, have a peak.

That thing that looks like broken HTML is, in actuality, a Shockwave ad. It's some kind of mis-shapen video-player. Sometimes the splash-screen of the player hints at the video's contents, sometimes its just a big, black, empty rectangle. If you're curious enough to click the miniature 'play' button you'll be treated with a completely irrelevant video short that's too small and non-contextual to be interesting.

Now, check out Xbox 360 Fanboy's feed very carefully. Near the bottom. It's a Google Adsense unit, and it's blended so well you'd think it was part of the feed's content rather than an ad if it weren't for "Ads by Google." The ads aren't well targeted, but given the content that's to be expected. However, one thing the ads all share in common is the subject: they are all about Xbox 360s. All of them. They are appropriately in sync with the feed's overall content.

The ads running in the TechCrunch feed (I don't know whose they are -- they're just anonymous out of place blobs with no markings what-so-ever) are not.

It doesn't take a fool to see that the click-through rates on the Google Adsense units are going to be higher -- much higher, if only by the virtue of them being relevant to what the reader is interested in.

That's not what I want to talk about, though. The real question that's burning in my mind is why: why would you do that?

The blanket carpet-bombing style approach of advertising in TechCrunch's feeds is just a way to burn money. It's a swing and maybe-you'll-hit-maybe-you-won't. Since the videos don't even auto-play (god save whoever decides that's a good idea), it doesn't even work as a branding approach.

It's so... ancient. It smacks of old-school media who haven't caught up with the rest of the world. Did someone out there just forget about what made Google Adsense work? The contextual relevance? The small, unobtrusive ad elements that are easy to blend into content?

I mean someone really, seriously, honestly thought this was a great idea.

"Let's put video units in RSS feeds", they said.

"Let's make them tiny and hard to watch," added another.

"We'll make sure that there's no interesting splash screen on the player!" someone jubilantly shouted.

A part of me feels really bad -- I know they're not getting any airtime aside from the curious, "did someone really just do that?" viewer. Is this some kind of experiment? Do they want to see how many people will watch anyway?

I need to know. It's *EATING* me.

Someone tell me -- please!

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