Chill: Gmail’s New Email Ads Aren’t Actually New, And Aren’t Even Real Emails

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Only weeks after Google rolled out the revamped tabbed interface for Gmail, users began spotting a new ad format, which placed advertisements directly into the “Promotions” section of the inbox. News of this feature has begun making the rounds again, as more users are now noticing the ads for the first time.

One TechCrunch writer spotted and took a screenshot of the new Gmail ads on May 31, for example. Others, like the unofficial Google-watching blog, Google Operating System, wrote about the new ads in June. And others still had spotted the ads while in much earlier phases of beta testing.

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As you may recall, Gmail’s user interface overhaul recently broke up users’ emails into four sections – Primary for important messages, Social for updates from social networks, Promotions for promotional messages, and Updates for auto-generated messages, such as order confirmations, bills or statements. The ads are now appearing at the top of the Promotions section.

The placement of these ads makes sense. Someone digging into this inbox section, which features the messages from retailers and other sites a user has opted in to hear from, is likely already in a shopping mindset. It’s an ideal time to market to Gmail’s extensive user base, estimated at more than 425 million users.

These ads, which can also be starred and shared with friends, much like emails, are clearly marked with an “ad” label and have a different background color from the rest of the inbox. However, the overall look-and-feel could still easily confuse less sophisticated users who may assume the ads are actually their own emails. But to be clear, the ads are not email messages in the sense that Google has shared a user’s email address with an advertiser, who is now contacting them by sending them a message, as some have reported.

But due to the confusion the ads may cause — plus the fact that the format makes an overloaded inbox feel even more cluttered — the initial reception to the new ads has been rather unfavorable. VentureBeat, for example, even went so far as to call the ads “spammy.”

Google, of course, has run ads in Gmail for many years now, so the introduction of advertising is nothing new. For example, advertisements were added in 2010 via Gmail’s “web clips,” which delivered ticker-like news headlines to inboxes. The Promotional ads, though, will now replace “web clips” when enabled. When the Promotions tab is visible in the inbox, the web clips disappear. But if you hide the Promotions tab, or choose to remain in Gmail’s “Priority Inbox” configuration, the web clips remain.

Google explains that, in addition to replacing web clips, the Promotions ads only pop up when relevant, which means you won’t always see these ads in your inbox. So despite their perhaps deceptive appearance, there’s a chance for users to see fewer ads than usual at present — or at least until the program is expanded enough so that a lack of relevant ads is no longer an issue.

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While users may dislike the new ads for the reasons stated above, they will likely remain. Google’s customers aren’t you or me or other Gmail users, but advertisers. And these ads, or “Sponsored Promotions” as they’re officially called, are very advertiser-friendly. Advertisers pay for just the initial click on the ad’s teaser message, MarketingLand has previously explained, but the user can then star the message for later, forward it to a friend, or interact with other advertiser content, like clicking through to a landing page, filling out a form, or watching a video, for example.

We’re hearing that Google is doing limited sign-ups for advertisers, as the ads have now been rolled out to all Gmail users following their launch in May.

No word yet on how well the ads perform, but given their prime placement and a design which most importantly works well on mobile devices, they will probably succeed far better than web clips ever did.

(Image credits: Frederic Lardinois, MarketingLand