Google is experimenting with an AdWords ad unit unique to Gmail which allows the company to introduce more graphical interactive ads without going so far as to introduce display ads.
The new AdWords units appear above the text ads in the right sidebar. They include an image, a headline and a couple of lines of text. They also feature the name of the advertiser next to an envelope icon, indicating that clicking-through takes the user to an e-mail message.
In the case of Focus Features’ execution for its “One Day” film, clicking on the link takes the user to a large static image — with buttons that allow for interaction — in the e-mail reading window. The creative can be easily forwarded like any other e-mail message or dismissed. Explanatory text reads: “What’s this? It’s a new type of ad you can save to your inbox or forward on. If you dismiss this ad, you won’t see it again.” The new format capitalizes on some of the user behaviors associated with e-mail… seeing an envelope icon, clicking through to view something in the message window, and forwarding it. It also allows for much larger creative units — including multiple images and lots of text — that haven’t been possible in Gmail previously.
“The ads are designed specifically for Gmail and look and function a little differently from regular text ads,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement, also noting that the ads are being shown to “a small number” of users in the U.S. and testing began in July.
What Google isn’t yet saying is how many, and what types of advertisers are being included in the testing — we saw the Focus Features creative and an execution for Groupon. Additionally, it isn’t clear how advertisers pay for these ads or how they are targeted. Do they use contextual information or is behavioral targeting utilized? Do advertisers pay per click on the original sidebar ad? What about if users click on the larger image to interact further or forward to a friend?
Generally speaking, it seems to me that Google has a winner with this new Gmail-specific ad unit, in that it succeeds in being relatively unobtrusive while also stimulating curiosity and interaction, also featuring larger imagery when a user clicks through. It’ll be interesting to see when this is rolled out more widely both to consumers and to advertisers.