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Google's Campaign Against Bad Commercials

Reporter's Notebook: "I probably shouldn't admit this," the bespectacled woman across the table said. "But I don't have a television because I can't stand the ads." It's a confession you might expect from a corduroy-sporting high school history teacher, but not from one of the world's most powerful advertising executives.

The woman across the table is a giant in her industry. She's Kim Malone, and her title, director of AdSense, Online Sales and Operations at Google, is pretty telling. Remember, Microsoft says Google owns 80 percent of the online advertising market.

But more telling than Malone's title is her confession. It's telling of where Google wants the advertising industry to go and what it's fighting to get there. Malone told internetnews.com that Google's message to online video advertisers is: "Invite, Don't Intrude."

And given the incentives Google has in play, it might just mean the end of that obnoxious 20th-century creation: the TV commercial so like a spinning drill bit at the back of your skull.

The plan spawns out of Google's past, Malone said. For as long as Google has made money, it's mostly done it peddling what Malone called "demand-fulfillment" advertising.

Often called "transactional" advertisements, demand-fulfillment ads from Google are the text ads you'll find on blogs, next to your e-mails in Gmail, and to the right of your Google search results. What's so special about these ads is that they're actually kind of useful. That's because they're designed to show up on your screen only when it's likely you're in the mood to buy the product being offered. They are there to fulfill your demand for a product.

The technology behind how Google serves the right ad to the right customer is complicated, but it basically comes down to matching keywords. If the blog you're reading is about antique furniture, Google's going to serve up a furniture ad. The same goes if you do a Google search for "couch."

But the real beauty of these demand-fulfillment ads is that even when you don't actually harbor a deep desire for the product that worldscomfiestcouches.com is pushing your way, the ads themselves are easy to ignore. They're just small bits of text on the margins of your screen. They are there if you want them (and Google's ridiculous profits indicate people often do) but it's not a pain to ignore them if you don't.

But if you have ever ridden a bus, picked up a magazine, driven the billboard-lined highways, or watched any live broadcast TV for even 10 minutes, you know that's not how advertising typically works.

Advertising in those mediums, in almost any medium other than the Internet and the newspaper classifieds, has typically been designed for what Malone politely called "demand generation." Others call it brand advertising.

In less charitable moods, it's called advertising that's supposed to tell you what you want so you'll buy it even though you didn't know you needed it. It may be an irksome concept, but there's a lot of money in it. Without advertising to generate demand, some companies might not have any demand at all.

Take Coca-Cola. Why has anyone ever demanded a Coca-Cola over Pepsi or even water? Is it really because Coca-Cola tastes better? That's possible. But it's also possible that the only reason anybody ever wants to "buy the world a Coke" is because Coca-Cola pays dearly to have its brand associated with positive emotions. Remember, Coca-Cola practically invented Santa Claus.

It put the big man on billboards, print and TV, the traditional domains of demand-generation brand advertising.

But Coca-Cola and other brand advertisers are moving online. And even though it's always been Google's business to sell demand-fulfillment advertising, Malone and company aren't going to just sit there and not take advantage of the new money.

Next page: Bring on the video ads