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Ford, Google Put Banners in Context

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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.”

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