The Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, “Is It News…or Is It an Ad? ” yesterday about the appearance of in-text ads on major news sites.  In-text ads appear as an underlined key word or phrase within an actual article.  If a user mouses-over it, an advertisement related to that phrase appears as a layer above the content, obscuring part of the text temporarily.

The article spends some time discussing the ethical concerns about tying advertising so closely to content and how this blurs the separation between editorial / news and advertising. Perhaps a more important point, one that was also included in the article, is that the contextual targeting of such advertisements can be way off the mark.

I personally think that the ethical dilemma is nearly moot regarding such ads.  The problem of contextual correctness is a potentially larger barrier to their success and a greater threat to personal sensitivities.  If an ad for, say, Viagra, appeared in an article about the Korean nuclear crisis in a sentence that reads, “DPRK’s impotent missile program has yet to produce an ICBM capable of reaching the mainland US” I think that neither Pfizer nor the readers of the article would appreciate it.

In my opinion, solving the context problem, which will occur eventually as natural language processing improves, will make in-text ads one of the most effective formats for advertisers and add value for consumers by placing the right product and information in front of them at the right time, and in the right place.