Everybody's buzzing about the Google patent suggesting that they have plans to get into digital billboards. And with good reason; Google's entry into any ad medium is likely to be newsworthy.
It's interesting to hear the word "contextual" being thrown around, though, suggesting that it will be some kind of billboard equivalent of what they've done so well with AdWords.
The Mountain View, Calif. search marketing giant has filed a patent application for technology that lets local stores tie their stock control computers to a Google-powered ad network, a strong hint that the company is planning to expand expansion beyond Web, print and radio advertising.
The patent, filed December 21, 2006 with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office), covers systems and methods for allocating advertising space in a “network of electronic display devices.”
The idea is to tie billboard advertising in local malls to actual products for sale nearby, much like the company’s flagship Google AdWords/AdSense network that handles contextual advertising on the Internet.
It's a smart idea. I can imagine ads that change depending on what product has excess inventory, or by time of day based on what people are likely to want to buy in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
But the context here is the context of what the advertiser wants to sell, not what the customer wants to buy, and that's not a small distinction.
Adwords was revolutionary because the ads were linked to what the user was searching for. That's really hard to replicate in the physical world; as someone is strolling through the mall, how do you know what she wants?
You don't, and so we're back to interruption marketing - hey, is this what you want? How about this?
Google may be making that kind of advertising more flexible and efficient, and that's a good thing, but so far, I'm not seeing anything particularly contextual from the customer's point of view. I am, however, curious to see what they do with this.
If they have figured out how to do physical contextual advertising, they're on to something big. But we'll have to wait till there's more than a patent out there to look at.