Google's new Street View feature has been getting a lot of attention lately. And why not? The ability to virtually walk around cities like New York and San Francisco is pretty cool. Not only does it let anyone "visit" attractions like Times Square and the Golden Gate Bridge, but with enough sleuthing you can turn up any number of odd things to amuse yourself during those boring days at the office.
But when you look at Street View and think about how much it must have cost the search giant to put together, it's not hard to figure out what the end game is. Sure, it's a nifty feature that helps keep users coming back to Google Maps. And, yes, it's another way to irritate Microsoft and its platform-specific Live View technology, but there's got to be more. And I think there is.
Dynamically inserted advertising.
Dynamic ads inserted into Google Street View would be the next killer app in ad technology. While companies like Clear Channel and Van Wagner might own the real world when it comes to outdoor advertising, Google's ongoing virtualization of the world will offer a whole new opportunity for online advertising.
The technology's already in place. Digitally inserted ads have been making their way into television for years, and there have even been experiments in using digital technology for virtual product placements in reruns of popular shows, basically turning TV shows into ongoing media-placement cash cows.
Digital ad insertion has also become a hot topic in the VOD (define) world. Companies like Invidi, BigBand Networks, and SeaChange International have begun shipping solutions that allow cable providers to insert targeted advertising into their VOD platforms, effectively providing the holy grail of individually targeted television advertising. But while providers like Charter Communications have worked with agencies like Ogilvy and Mediaedge:cia in some preliminary tests, the initial results show the technology still has a way to go.
On the Net, dynamically inserted advertising has become a hot topic as online video continues to grow. Hiro Media now offers a solution that allows dynamically inserted ads in downloaded video. And Lightningcast, a veteran in the dynamically inserted ad world, was purchased by AOL over a year ago and is now part of Advertising.com's offerings.
The buzz is extending to podcasting, too: Kiptronic, a company that offers a platform for dynamically inserting ads into podcasts, got a $4 million infusion in venture money back in January. Obviously, the big money folks are paying attention.
So why not Google Street View? If Google's eventual goal is to create a metaverse that mirrors the real world and gives us a virtual world where we can do business, shop, and play, then creating Street View becomes a vital part of an advertising strategy that combines Google Earth models with perpetually resalable virtual space in the street-level views. Some folks are already experimenting with interactive Second Life billboards, so there's no doubt the meme is already floating around in the fevered imaginations of leading-edge advertisers and agencies.
Is this the future of Google Street View? Virtual ads could be dynamically inserted into existing ad space based on AdSense-like technology and could even include embedded links to the sites being advertised, closing the loop for advertisers and offering a verifiable, trackable virtual outdoor platform. As the technology becomes more sophisticated, advertisers could even insert virtual objects (e.g., cars, buildings, products, etc.) into the view, creating a highly interactive, engaging ad platform. And if the technology works in Street View, there's no reason it couldn't be rolled out to dynamically insert ads or other content into photos on sites like Flickr and MySpace.
What would consumers think? Even though consumers consistently report they don't like advertising, they're also addicted to free content. When it comes down to it, Street View ads ("StreetSense"? "StreetWords"?) might just be what keeps the Street View picture cars rolling along, and the rest of us happy that we can find what we're looking for.
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Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.
March 19, 2014