Google Sneaks Ads into the Inbox

Google recently unveiled a revamped and highly versatile tabbed Gmail interface which automatically filters and groups emails into multiple categories such as Primary (Main), Social, Updates, Promotions, Offers and Notifications.

If you have already upgraded to the new interface, you must have noticed some ads which appear as emails under the Promotions tab. The new ads look like highlighted messages and are in the same peach color normally associated with the Google’s “related ads” appearing at the top of the search engine results pages.

This is not the first time that Google is displaying ads within Gmail. Google ads on Gmail preceded the revamped email interface which was launched in May with many contextual ads being displayed at the right sidebar and at the top of the page in the form text ads.

The latest ads format is overtly sneaky as they look like your normal regular emails even though the ads are highlighted in a different color and are also labeled as “Ad.”

Google has indicated that these ads will show up based on the information available on a user’s email although the nature of this information is not explicitly specified. The ads can open in a new link or as a normal email message and there is even the option to forward them to others.

From Google themselves:

As always, advertising keeps Google and Gmail free to use. We work hard to make ads safe, unobtrusive, and relevant. Instead of ads always appearing at the top of your inbox, they’ve been relegated to a more appropriate place in your Promotions tab to create a better overall experience.

So is Google engaging is spam since its new “email ads” seem to bypass the standard email marketing procedure where users have to opt-in to receive regular promotional messages? The tech giant has countered that these ads are not spamming users since they have been placed under the “Promotions” tab as opposed to the main tab where users have access to their most important emails.

Secondly, Google has stated that a user visiting the Promotions tab is most likely looking for some promotional material and messages and these ads more or less meet that need. The ads will also be displayed only if they have some relevance to users and Gmail users also have the option of dismissing them if they do not want to see them.

Reactions from the Gmail user community regarding Google’s new “disguised” ads has mostly been negative. On social media, users have criticized the new ad format as sneaky or spam ads. Some users have expressed reservations that Gmail is violating their privacy by “reading” their emails and displaying ads based on their private information without their explicit consent.

Gmail’s tech rivals have also grasped the opportunity to lampoon the tech giant and promote their “spam-free” email services. Microsoft has been scathing describing Gmail’s new disguised ads as “Gspam” and accusing Gmail of “Gspamming” users. Certainly a new word in our tech vocabulary! But users can dismiss these ads completely by getting rid of the Promotions tab on their new tabbed Gmail interface.

While Gmail’s new ads on its Promotions tab is a nightmare to users, it presents new opportunities to advertisers who can now take advantage of them to increase the performance of their online marketing campaigns via Google Adwords.

Their very “disguise” means many users are likely to click on them thinking they are regular emails. The pricing model is also likely to appeal to many advertisers. The ads utilize a CPC model and advertisers are billed only once based on the first click. Advertisers willing to take part in the Gmail Promotions ads may place a special request as Google is currently offering these in a limited Beta.

It is however too early to determine how the ads will perform and whether they will be widely accepted by Gmail’s massive user community.