Once the initial furor over the appearance of Gmail’s new ads in the Promotions tab died down, the ads themselves seem to die down, too. Until today, I hadn’t seen any of the new, email-like promotions appearing in my accounts for what must be at least two months. They were back this morning, and with a new and interesting change:
The ads now feature a graphical element in the preview pane that wasn’t there before. One of the many complaints from senders and marketers about the ads when they were first introduced is that they too much resembled actual e-mail, and therefore were an attempt to deceive recipients. Indeed, some marketers suggested in semi-private forums that Gmail should be sued for CAN SPAM violations in a class action (never minding that senders have no standing under the law).
Now, in addition to the contrasting background color of the ads, the larger negative space surrounding each ad, the lack of any time stamp, the label “Ad” appearing next to the ad itself, and the “x” to dismiss the ad within the preview pane, we now see a graphical element to further distinguish Gmail inbox ads from actual e-mail presented in the Promotions tab.
That should satisfy senders’ charges that Gmail is being deceptive in presenting ads that too closely resemble actual mail, but I don’t really expect them to be happy about it. Their real beef with Gmail inbox ads has never been about deceptive practices. Instead, marketers hate that the ads enjoy preferred positioning over actual marketing mail – positioning that many marketers believe should belong to them.
As an employee of a company that helps marketers and others send tens of millions of messages a day, I disagree with that sentiment. Gmail and other free inbox providers are doing marketers an enormous service just by providing this massive infrastructure that allows them to reach their intended recipients in a very engaging and measurable way, providing entire revenue streams and messaging channels that otherwise would not exist. And they do this at no extra charge to the senders of mail.
If free inbox providers need to monetize their service in order to maintain it, why should senders mind so much? Perhaps they’d prefer that the whole channel wither and die because the inbox providers are unable to make it pay for itself sufficiently? That may be something of a false dichotomy, but I sure hope marketers are ready to stop looking gift horses in the mouth.