Image via Flickr
I’ve used Gmail for years, and can safely say it does a pretty great job filtering out spam. Only recently, the spammy emails have started coming from Google. There’s nowhere to hide now.
In the latest invasive to its ad strategy, Google is beginning to send sponsored messages that look just like emails to Gmail users’ inboxes. The email-ads are housed under the “promotions” tab, one of the features of the new inbox design currently being rolled out to users.
Screenshot via the Official AdWords Community
Some users are noticing that mixed in with the daily deluge of messages are emails with a little “ad” label underneath. To be fair, it’s nice that the promotions tab automatically filters out marketing emails, so they’re not clogging up the inbox where more important messages need to be answered. Still, there's something about an ad emailed directly, rather than promoted along the perimeter of a website, that feels much more invasive.
Google wants us to think of it another way, as practical. Even social. "It's a new type of ad which you can forward to a friend, or star to save it to your inbox," the description reads.
Once you open an ad, there’s a button that gives you the option to dismiss it—but only after that initial interaction, which makes advertisers happy. And by noting the ads you dismiss, Google can learn to serve up more relevant ads next time.
That’s the endgame here: relevance. The ad industry wants to challenge the long-held notion that advertisements are annoying, evil things consumers need to be tricked or forced into looking at. Advertisers want consumers to find ads useful, and that comes from personalization.
Remember a couple years ago when we all realized Google reads our email in order to deliver targeted ads? That was creepy too for a while, but we got used to it. Now it's no big thing to see an ad for sunscreen to appear when you've recently been emailing a friend about a trip to the beach.
Google goes as far as to let users help it get to know you better. In Ad Settings, you can see what the company has determined are your interests, and give feedback. No, I don't care about banking, but yes, I might be into an ad related to the recording industry.
Now, those tailored promotions will show up in your inbox (albeit under the promotions tab) along with emails from friends on the same topics. It's almost like Google is ever-present, living your life right along with you.
Of course, you can configure the settings to disable the promotions tab, switch to the old design, or opt-out of interest-based ads. Or ditch Gmail altogether. Or go off the grid. But that’s not the point, is it?
Personalized and interactive advertising could be seen as a positive thing: Gmail is a free service so we've all entered into a deal to put up with ads, so they might as well be useful. But there again, we're just trading privacy for convenience. With each new ad delivery system, we whine for a while, but we go along with it. The thing about advertising is, the latest change is never the last one.