New contextual ad concept is cool but not for news

New contextual ad concept is cool but not for news.
There’s a new player in the contextual advertising game that has journalists riled. My initial reaction was shock, but now I think that might have been an overreaction. The company is Vibrant Media, and their new IntelliTXT system rolls out today. It scans the text of Web pages and colors ad-related words green and underlines them twice. When a mouse goes over one of the words, a small text ad pops up. Clever — and somewhat fun — but it’s definitely not for the news.

A story in AdAge says journalists are complaining that it blurs the line between editorial and advertising.

“It’s like selling product placement in the middle of articles,” said Kelly McBride, member of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Fla., journalism think tank, of IntelliTXT. “I have a huge problem with that.”

“If it looks like a pop-up, feels like a pop-up or interrupts like a pop-up, we might as well just assume consumers will outright hate and reject the format,” said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Intelliseek, a Cincinnati research firm that tracks online consumer buzz.

The “Don’t Ask” column of Off-road.com is one place where you can find these things, and I encourage you to take a look. It’s pretty cool, and in certain places, I could see them adding value to the user’s experience. News, however, isn’t one of them.

In a news context, IntelliTXT corrupts the entire process of publishing written material on the Web by inserting what amounts to links in the author’s work. That may be okay in some applications, but not for someone, such as myself, who routinely includes links in his work. A link is a link, and I don’t want anybody thinking I put the green links there myself. Moreover, what about the advertisers who buy into this? Is Suzuki going to want to buy ads that might show up in a story about a motorcycle accident? Of course not. Artificial intelligence has come a long way, but AI hasn’t been shown to have a lot of common sense.

I said I might have overreacted initially. That’s because the longer I think about it, the more ridiculous it seems that anybody would permit this in a news environment. I learned long ago, however, never to underestimate the power of greed, so I suppose I shouldn’t think it “can’t” happen. We’ll see, won’t we?

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