Ford, Google Put Banners in Context

Most banner ads are inserted into Web pages regardless of content, but recently Ford worked with Google to begin running display ads that varied depending on the nature of the site.

The effort, which began late last month, relied on a new Google display offering the company hopes will give it a leg up in the display business.

Google’s technology automates a process that would be extremely labor intensive, said Scott Kelly, head of Ford’s digital marketing. “For the first time, Google can scan through our Web sites and create ads on the fly and get them out in a really relevant way,” he said. “This is the first time we can take search targeting and put a brand wrap around it.”

In ads that went live on April 23, the auto company became the first marketer to create an interactive banner ad campaign using a technology called Search API DoubleClick Rich Media, which Google inherited in its 2007 acquisition of DoubleClick.

Ford Drive One ads appear on the Google Content Network of 1 million publishers. Depending on the context of the Web site, the most relevant Ford content is pulled and displayed in the ad unit, using video from the Ford YouTube channel and information from Ford Web sites thefordstory.com and fordvehicles.com. For instance, a site that discusses green issues would highlight Ford’s hybrid models. A tech site might show a clip from Ford at the Consumer Electronics Show and so on.

The initiative is the latest sign of Google’s intent to reinvent the display market to work more like search. It also comes amid the first signs of an uptick in the long-beleaguered Internet display ad market, which has suffered from low click-through rates. Last summer, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said display advertising would most likely be the next of the company’s operations to ring up $1 billion in sales, a goal analysts expect the company to reach this year.

Google has been making acquisitions with that goal in mind for some time. The company’s 2006 YouTube buy added a huge amount of video inventory. The DoubleClick purchase gave the company access to banner ad technology. Last fall, Google also added dynamic ad generator Teracent, giving it the ability to offer a combined technology and media product to publishers and advertisers that allows display advertising to scale.

Google executives believe they can increase display ads’ efficacy by making them more relevant.

“This marries the science of search with the art of display,” said Bruce Falck, head of the Google Content Network. “Ford has three principal areas which are targeted. But the ads are very dynamic, and there’s an indefinite number of ads that will get served.”


John Gray, svp, director of interactive media at Team Detroit, said the dynamic interactive banner allows Ford to syndicate “near real-time contextual content in more of a news environment.”

“This works well because of things like [corporate social media hub] The Ford Story site, which has a lot of fresh content that gets updated frequently,” Gray explained. “This is a brand that has something to say to consumers, and this is a way to get that content out there easily.”

Not that it’s an approach suited to every marketer. “This is a signal of where brands are headed, but there are some brands where it might not be right,” he said.

Google’s Content Network serves billions of ad impressions every month to more than 500 million Internet users worldwide, reaching 80 percent of global Internet users.

“This has impact just because of the scale of Google,” said Scott Lange evp, digital creative, Team Detroit on Ford. “And when you incorporate display and contextual relevance and the broadening of content that you can put in an ad, it provides an avenue to really high engagement at a high scale. It’s a step in the direction of where things are going in the future.”

Ford’s digital head Kelly sees new ease and cost efficiencies at a time when it’s becoming harder and harder to reach consumers with the right message at the right time.

“There are so many different sites and mobile devices in an exploding number of places where you can reach people,” he said. “It would be a huge drain on production resources to be relevant to all of that, and I would have to pay my agency lots of money to do it. Google helps automate all of this.”

Team Detroit’s Lange believes tech advances like these will enhance the role of creatives. “I definitely don’t see this as a lesser creative role,” he said. “We’re often coming up with many different kinds of content, and this helps bring that content to life in front of people who already are in the mind-set to see it. This is the way to get the great content we create syndicated.”