Google has been testing a display unit in opened Gmail messages since Jan. 21. ClickZ has observed a handful of these ads atop text-based Adsense promotions in the right-hand column of the inbox view. The display ad renders in the message every time the Gmail user opens it until the e-mail is deleted.
Brands seen in the image-based promotional spot include daily deals firms LivingSocial, KGB Deals, and Zulily, as well as CPG brand Nature's Bounty and electronics company Wacom. (See images left and below.)
"We're always trying out new ad formats and placements in Gmail," Victoria Katsarou, Google spokesperson, told ClickZ. "And we recently started experimenting with image ads on messages with heavy image content."
Rob Shilkin, another rep for the Mountain View, CA-based company, briefly detailed how the Gmail display ads are served. "They run like any ad running across the Google Display Network," he said. "These ads are contextually matched, based on the words in the e-mail, or in recent e-mails, like any other ad in Gmail."
Google's test begs a question for e-mail marketers: If the display ads become a mainstay in messages, will they negatively affect click-through rates?
"I think initially users will be a little distracted by it because they are not used to seeing the images in the text [ad] space," said Kara Trivunovic, senior director of strategic services for StrongMail. "But in a long-term perspective, I really don't think it's going to [affect] a message's performance. I still believe results go back to the content of the e-mail itself."
Chad White, research director at marketing services firm Responsys, suggested that Gmail's user numbers weren't big enough to get e-mail marketers truly worried about visually competing with display units. "While image ads are more intrusive than the text ads that were already present," he said, "Gmail users are currently a relatively small percentage on most marketers' e-mail lists, especially among B2B companies. And on the plus side, this change opens up better opportunities for remarketing campaigns within Gmail, allowing brands to reinforce their e-mail messages with display ads."
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
March 19, 2014