Google and Seth MacFarlane: YouTube-Plus, Banner Ad Band-Aid or What?

Google’s deal to distribute a new series from “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane on its AdSense network is nothing new. The company has pushed YouTube videos with text and overlay ads to AdSense publisher partners since at least last October, and as far back as a year ago had a specific deal with MTV networks to distribute MTVN video clips and in-stream video ads to some sites.

The MacFarlane link-up is the same. The videos live on a YouTube brand channel, not inside the ad units. But it’s still noteworthy for three specific reasons.

First is the big name talent involved. Seth MacFarlane is super bankable and his “Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy” is a good get for YouTube.

Second, the sponsorships Google and its partner Media Rights Council are trying to sell alongside the clips will be a cut above what it’s tried before. Whereas last Fall Google was focused on text, pre-roll and display units, it’s now moving into closer pairings of advertiser and content. Google has stated very clearly that it plans to treat advertising in “Cavalcade” as branded entertainment. (Those are Google’s own words, though I would argue they shouldn’t apply in situations where advertiser content is hitched up to pure unbranded content. When the two are connected, that’s traditional advertising, even if the ads happen to be really good. Branded entertainment is standalone.)

Lastly, Google may be trying — in its oblique way — to apply a salve to the world’s chronic and worsening case of banner blindness. Industry-reported click-through rates, brand impact research from Dynamic Logic, and eye tracking studies from Pew and others have all found the effectiveness of display advertising is in decline. Some are speculating that by moving to distribute quality video content in ad space, Google could help re-sensitize Internet users to banner ads.

I agree with that up to a point. Yet there’s only so much Google can do given its low ranking on the display ad totem pole. While ComScore pinpoints it as the third largest ad network in terms of reach, behind Yahoo and Platform A, the vast majority of Google’s inventory is text ads. Even so, it’s nice to see an ad network operator do something — anything! — to aid the humble banner, which continues to be favored by marginal advertisers and neglected by blue chips.

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