December 19, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Widgets are the new ad kid on the block

Widgets are the new ad kid on the block
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Forget static banners. Online ads are evolving into mini-applications with video, games, and dynamic content that people like enough to embed in their own Web pages and share with others.

These widget ads aren't commonplace yet, but they are cropping up more and more, further blurring the line between advertising and content. For some it will come as an improvement over flashing emoticons, dancing silhouettes, and expandable text boxes that cover up the item you want to read on a page.

Many people are already using desktop widgets, which are small applications that update dynamically and offer a limited function for things like calendar, clock, weather, and news or RSS feeds. Yahoo offers them, as do Microsoft and Google, who call them "gadgets."

Then there are the thousands of widgets on Facebook, things like Slide for photo slide shows and iLike for music recommendations, which have boosted the popularity of the social-networking site.

The interactivity and viral nature of widgets make them attractive to marketers looking for new ways to expand their audience. Brand advertisers are jumping on the widget ad bandwagon at a rapid clip.

"This is an effective way for marketers to share their brand with influencers out there...It has to be compelling enough for someone to want to grab it and place it onto their page."
--Peter Kim, president of Interpolls

This week, Ford will be launching a new online ad campaign using widgets that will run on AOL sites. The widgets advertise Sync, an in-car system that lets you speak commands to use a mobile phone and digital music device. Sync is powered by Microsoft.

The Sync widget ad lets you download a free song or view a number of short humorous videos, and offers more information about the product. You can also grab the widget and embed it into other sites.

"This is an effective way for marketers to share their brand with influencers out there," said Peter Kim, president of Interpolls, which is hosting the Sync widget ads, as well as tracking their performance even as they get passed on to blogs, RSS readers, social networks, and home pages across the Web. "It has to be compelling enough for someone to want to grab it and place it onto their page," he said.

If the Sync widget ad doesn't grab you, maybe the widget ad for the Warner Brothers film August Rush will. It's got photos, a trailer of the movie, and lets you find show times for theaters near you based on your zip code.

Then there's the Interpolls widget ad for dating site eHarmony that has rotating questions about dating. If your curiosity is piqued, you'll answer the question and a pop-up window will tell you the correct answer (45 marriages each day are "fostered" through eHarmony, according to the widget ad), while offering you a sign-up form for a free personality profile.

Other widget ads let you buy tickets and make other transactions and e-mail the ads around. "These widget ads can help qualify users for clients," Kim said.

Last week, PointRoll launched what it calls SnaggableAds, which are distributed over Clearspring Technologies' Widget Ad Network. These ads can be animated cartoons, videos, and games, such as one similar to Space Invaders.

Real-time feedback
Beyond the viral distribution aspect, marketers are attracted to the tracking and reporting that Interpolls and PointRoll can offer. Interpolls, for example, offers real-time data on how many times and in what way people have interacted with a particular widget ad. It also tracks how many times the ad has been grabbed and where it's been embedded--whether it was in a specific blog, Facebook or iGoogle. The ad companies also track all interactions within the widget ads that have been grabbed.

"We're tracking all the impressions of the ads that were served," said Kim. "Then we track every single response to the question or click to any of the features, as well as any interactions on subsequent panels."

Even Google has gotten in on the act, launching a beta of Google Gadget Ads three months ago. The ads are served on Google's content network, which reaches 800 million people, said Christian Oestlien, product manager of Google Gadget Ads.

Nissan has embedded Google Maps with live traffic feeds into its gadget ads, auction houses are pulling in live auction information for items relevant to particular Web sites, and a consumer packaged goods company has put a recipe search engine into one of its gadget ads.

And Honda Civic partnered with pop punk band Fall Out Boy and created gadget ads in which people could submit questions to the band and receive answers, Kim said.

The gadget ads allow marketers a "more emotional response than they are used to in their traditional campaigns," he said.

"In the future, this is probably going to be the model for all advertising across media, but we're still in the early stage of the evolution of these things," said Andrew Frank, a research director at Gartner. Down the road, we'll see mobile widgets, TV widgets, widget-enabled devices like Chumby, and widget ads in games and other interactive content, he predicted.

However, it's premature to say if the ads are all that much more effective than traditional banner ads, said Tim Hanlon, executive vice president at Denuo, the media futures arm of ad firm Publicis Group. "It is very early for this hyper-distribution scenario for content, let alone the advertising component of it," he said.

One thing is certain, there will be only more "widgetization" of content and ads, particularly when the distribution is so easy. "This lets advertisers bypass media properties and communicate directly with consumers," Hanlon said.

See more CNET content tagged:
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a new kind of click....
What can now be measured in this new form of advertising,
whether it's a widget or other new form of rich-media banner
technology, is coming to be called "engagement clicks." That is,
online advertisers can now go well beyond measuring just
clickthroughs to their site -- they can actually also measure the
ways the consumer interacts with the ad. Very cool.

Posted by GraemeThickins (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Widgets rule
I've done a couple widgets for clients so far. One got over 5,500,000 impressions in under 7 months and cost less than $20k to produce. Talk about ROI!
Posted by agentsl9 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Show me the money
So, I'll bite. Where is it? I want to see what less than $20 k will accomplish.
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Link Flag
Still not tempted
They can make all sorts of fancy widget ads. Maybe it's just me but I never have or ever will be tempted to click on an ad. The only ones I ever pay attention to are the PC vs MAC ads. And I just watch them but never click on them when they are done.
Posted by sanjayb (538 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I would have agreed untill I read this article...
I normally do not pay any attention to banner ads at all, and I find the popup ads that block the text I want to read just plain annoying. However, if it is done right, I think a service widget with embedded ads related to the service would be very appealing.
I'm getting a service for free, and the advertiser gets to present their product to me at a time when I'm most intrested in paying attention to them. Everyone wins.

My only concern would be possible security and privacy issues. It would not be difficult to use an engaging widget to entice someone to download a virus... One of the reasons why I never click on ads today. Also, more interactive ads will let advertisers glean more information about an individual, going back to the privacy issue.
Posted by Kesteral (70 comments )
Link Flag
Get with the program- article is a year behind
"These widget ads aren't commonplace yet" like He$$ they aren't ... look around will you?

If this is a new article for 12/19/07, then you have lived under a rock for all of the year.

As grade school kids are using widgets on their own sites, I can only hope you posted a "12/19/06" article by mistake. So much for "CNet NEWS" being newsworthy.
Posted by InMediaToo (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Who is so pathetic that they actually like getting ads?

It is mind boggling.

I never have and never will click on an ad. Ads of any type have never made me interested in buying their junk. Ads have annoyed me to the point that if I was already a customer, I am no longer.

I guess most people have been conditioned to be proper corporate slaves.
Posted by The_Decider (3097 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My God, there really is "one born every minute"
Way to brainwash people into liking adds.

There really is a sucker born every minute.

This comes from sticking so many ads into the kiddies faces that when they grow up, they think it's normal.

Posted by Mergatroid Mania (8395 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bravo to the non-consumers!
How gallant of you to take a stand against consumerism and advertising. You rock! I so appreciate you sharing your disgust.
Posted by righteous_to_the_nth (1 comment )
Link Flag
Widgets - the new AD
Have you checked out FeedoStyle and Flaremaker - both tools which generate Widgets.
Posted by BillSmith821 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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