Talking tech since 2003

Yesterday, an update on Microsoft’s Bing Ads page revealed that the company is finding new ways to integrate “Hero” style advertisements into Bing searches on Windows 8.1. As part of the OS’s update from 8 to 8.1, Microsoft’s search engine has been integrated into the operating system—so when you simply search for something, you’ll get results from both a search of your computer and a search of the web via Bing. Hero ads, as they’re described in the post, are “visually rich” and come when users enter “brand-specific” terms into Bing Smart Search.

As you can see in the image above, a search for “Land Rover” brings back, well, a big ol’ ad for Land Rovers. The post notes that this brand, along with “Home Depot, Norwegian Cruise Line, Radio Shack, Hertz, Volkswagen” are the main brands being tested in the pilot program. This is good news for advertisers, and good news for Microsoft, which will obviously reap benefits by putting more ads in people’s faces more often. But is it good news for users?

Paul Thurrott, the tech-writer behind the WinSuperSite doesn’t think so. Here’s his reactions via Twitter:

So, clearly, Thurrott is not a fan of these new ads. But while this could, indeed, be a sign of the “slippery slope,” I simply don’t see it, and that’s mainly because of when and how these Hero ads show up. Quite simply, if you search for a specific brand like “Land Rover” or “Home Depot,” why the heck shouldn’t an ad pop up that might direct you to the site? Or—hey—might let you know about a sale or promotion that’s going on? Ads aren’t evil on their own, and it sounds to me like Microsoft has found a relatively tasteful way to integrate them into the searching experience.

I’m not going to sit here and say that Microsoft hasn’t made poor decisions regarding advertising in the past. The Xbox 360 dashboard is rife with ads—most of which I ignore—despite connecting to the Internet through a paid subscription to Xbox LIVE Gold. Yes, it’s annoying. But, it should also be noted, the ads never get in the way of me doing what I want to do. The fact that I’ve paid for a subscription to a service for the privilege of seeing ads simply running passively on my screen is lame, but I’ve never bothered engaging, so it’s something of a wash.

Contrasted with these Hero Bing Ads, the Xbox 360 adverts are downright invasive, since they’re there whether I like them or not. But specifically searching out a brand should mean, well, all bets are off. You want to shove an ad in my face if I seek you out? That’s fine with me. Maybe go that extra mile and tell me about a promotion that might interest me at my local Home Depot—that’s a positive for everyone, actually.

I’ll get upset about advertisements invading my Windows experience when Microsoft prevents me from booting up Word by showing me a commercial first. When that happens, I’ll be the first person to throw out my PC and buy a Mac. But until then, I think I’ll live.

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