Would You Rent Your Rooftop to Google To Show Ads Upon?

Painters from the Googleplex wouldn’t show up at your door with ladders and paintbrushes. These wouldn’t be physical ads. They would instead show up in Google Maps, like the following which points out “Bob’s Sporting Goods” and displays ads for Bob’s local competitors.

Google Rooftop Advertising

Ads in services like Google Earth, and Microsoft Virtual Earth presently appear in the sidebar, and are often ignored. If they were placed in the “area of interest” on the map itself, would viewers pay more attention to them? A Google patent application explores that idea.

Providing advertising in aerial imagery
Invented by Ashutosh Garg and Mayur Datar
US Patent Application 20070233375
Published October 4, 2007
Filed: March 31, 2006

The way this could be done is that the search engine would:

  • Receive a map request from a user,
  • Retrieve a map in response to the request,
  • Overlay at least one advertisement on the retrieved map, and;
  • Provide the retrieved map with the overlaid advertisement to the user.

Advertisments might show up in the map image:

  • On a rooftop of a building depicted in the retrieved map.
  • On a top of at least one tree in the retrieved map.
  • On a side of a building depicted in the retrieved map.
  • On an open area in the retrieved map.
  • In an area in the retrieved map that does not obscure a view of the retrieved map.
  • In a predetermined location in the retrieved map.

Revenue may be shared for the advertisement with a group that owns the predetermined location.

The ad may be shown in a way that causes the ad or ads to appear or disappear from the map in response to actions performed by the user, by use of some type of overlay, like is presently used for satellite or street or hybrid views.

The ad may come from a repository of advertisements, based on a location depicted in the retrieved map. It could be chosen based on profile information associated with the user. The profile could contain information about a past search or purchase performed by the user.

Factors that might be considered in deciding which ads to show could be based upon:

  • The locality depicted in the retrieved map,
  • The place name in the query,
  • Search term or terms in the map request,
  • Users’ Tags from mapping services associated with mapped locations,
  • Information associated with the user,
  • Scaling of the retrieved map,
  • Bid amount and past performance of ads

For serving different maps based upon the scale of the map, the types of advertisements that are selected may be different depending on whether a map of the entire United States or a map of a small town is retrieved.

A request for a map based upon Zip Code might display ads for businesses located in or near the zip code.

A search for a map that uses the term “Pizza” and a zip code might trigger ads that show pizza establishments and/or other types of restaurants that are located in or near the zip code.

In one variation of implementing the process in this patent application, there may be the possibility of revenue sharing for the owners of property that the ads are shown upon:

For example, in one implementation, people, businesses, and/or government organizations (referred to collectively as “groups”) may be allowed to auction their rooftop spaces, sides of their buildings, their open spaces (e.g., vacant lots, parks, school grounds, ball fields, etc.), or the like to advertising networks to allow the advertising networks to place targeted advertisements on these locations.

These locations may be marked on the maps stored in the map repository. Thus, when sever 220 retrieves a map, server 220 may readily identify locations at which to place advertisements. In these implementations, the advertising network may share advertisement revenues with the groups auctioning off their virtual space in the aerial images.

I’m not sure that I would want Google to show ads on my rooftop, even virtual ones.

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20 thoughts on “Would You Rent Your Rooftop to Google To Show Ads Upon?”

  1. I wouldn’t want them advertising on my rooftop either. I think if there were ads everywhere if would actually make the maps pretty useless very fast. It would really cease to be a map and become a series of ads laid out like a map.

    Another thought is does Google or anyone have the right to show an image of a business and place an advertisement directly that image. I think many people would be misled into assuming the business authorized the ad and shares the opinion of that ad.

    I can easily see legal complications in this.

  2. Well, well…

    I see major benefits for Golden brands right here. Not sure what the ROAS would be, but imagine a great big H**** (etc) Hotel sign showing up, or a Luxury Car Dealer, or a Rolex Watch Affiliate (e.g) …

    Mayhap not what users were exactly looking for, and impossible for advertisers to initially to determine what your target market is (apart from the demographics of users who utilise G. Maps that is).

    But I would venture to say that if the price is right, that these placement map ads might be a big earner for Google, and big brand enhancer for those who could afford it.

    Being Google, they will have to try to include as much detail as possible, so I am going to assume the longer term version would be some form of sponsored listing on these maps as well…

    Too much detail will kill, so most will have to be mouse over. But arrows pointing to top 3-7 advertisers might be an option… big Google bucks – and IF ROI for those sponsored listings prove to be worth while ad spend.

    Do you think they might beta something like that? It fits with their ad model, not necessarily their relevance model.

    What think Bill?

  3. Heck yeah, I’ll take the cash if they want to strategically size and place an ad on my roof. How about a big Budweiser on the roof of my garage. :)

    But really I don’t see why Google would give anybody a cut of the ad revenue. The maps belong to Google, not me because my house is in their picture. If anything I can see businesses paying to put an ad over their own place of business and maybe even having to be the highest bidder in order to get that placement. It would be a bit funny to see Ford Field in Detroit covered by a big GM advertisement. There would be your first legal battle.

    But the other battle Google and the rest of the maps would face is the viewers expectations for accuracy. I think most people may assume that if an ad of strategic size and shape appears over a building in a map it is suggesting that the business is actually located there. People may not look favorably upon the map if buildings are covered with random ads of businesses that are not actually located at that spot. This could turn folks away fast.

    I hope this kind of thing can be decided by the market and not in the courts. Ads will be fine and actually welcomed by folks if they are targeted accurately and people can toggle them on or off when so desired. If not accurate, the traffic and the maps would disappear. Maybe you could toggle various business classes of ads such as food, retail, service, entertainment…. and have rotations for locations with multiple tenants.

    Fun stuff, thanks Bill!

  4. Hi Steven,

    Some excellent points. How quickly would the advertisments become overwhelming if they were placed on a map like this? Like advertising at most places, there may be a point were the page becomes over saturated with ads.

    In a Sphinn thread about this post, Danny Sullivan points to Microsoft already incorporating advertising into their Virtual Earth offering. The difference is that Microsoft is focusiing upon putting ads into those virtual scenes in places that you would expect to see ads, such as virtual billboards.

    Another thought is does Google or anyone have the right to show an image of a business and place an advertisement directly that image.

    Could Burger King show an ad for their business on the rooftop of the local McDonalds? Would I want ads shown on my rooftop for Budweiser or assorted pharmaceuticals or health care products or for the resturant down the street that I may not like much, and probably wouldn’t endorse in a positive manner?

    I don’t think that property owners have any legal rights when it comes to including a rough outline of their properties on a map, or even low resolution photographs. But when those images become higher resolution, such as in the Street Views that Google offers, some questions start arising.

    When a mapped image is transformed so that it becomes more than a map, and advertisements are shown upon properties within the maps, then there may be problems. If my roof is being used for an ad, that use might confuse viewers of the ad, and cause them to think that I have some relationship with the advertiser, or that I am endorsing the advertiser I can see the possibility of litigation over this kind of use.

    Yes, there may be some legal issues involved.

  5. Hi f-lops-y,

    I like your analysis.

    I can see a lot of potential for the generation of revenue from these kinds of ads. Some of Google’s driving directions patent applications also allow for a little more subtle kind of advertising, such as paying for the right to be a “waypoint” or “landmark” in those driving directions. These rooftop ads are much more visible.

    Advertisers who are interested in building a strong local brand could probably take advantage of something like this in a big way, as well as organizers of local events who wanted to build awareness quickly.

    For example, if I owned a club offering live music, I would consider placing an ad on my own property, letting people know who was performing when.

    Being Google, they will have to try to include as much detail as possible, so I am going to assume the longer term version would be some form of sponsored listing on these maps as well…

    A recent Google patent application referred to a business listing in Google for a specific business at a specific location as a “landing page” for that business. I hadn’t quite thought of those Google pages in that manner previously, but the amount of information that a business who verifies their business listing at Google can present is growing (pictures, new special custom fields, etc.)

    So a business using an ad integrated into a map like this might have the potential to point to their own landing page, or even to their Google local listing, which doesn’t require that a business even have a web site.

    The patent application does present a couple of different ways of letting people present ads on maps, from icons that show more information on mouseover, to overlays that a user can choose to see. Google could move forward without either of those, but I would think that if they did, that it wouldn’t make much sense to show too many ads in any one map view, or they would run the risk of oversaturation.

    I could see Google using limited test runs to see how effective this might be, and collecting lots of data, before they rolled it out for everyone. I think that we need to wait and see. Perhaps a final version of this might be more like the Microsoft approach were ads only appear on virtual billboards.

    But I do expect that we will see some advertising on Google Maps and/or Google Earth in the future. I think that there’s an audience for it.

  6. I like the idea of virtual billboards off properties the best because they would create less confusion and conflicts. They could easily be hovered over or clicked to zoom in or increase the size of it. Any map should have plenty of open space to use, the streets alone could provide enough space with virtual street boards.

    As far as ads on people’s rooftop? It would be just like ads on a site, being able to block and allow specific advertisers or ad classes would be important.

  7. Hi Chris,

    Heck yeah, I’ll take the cash if they want to strategically size and place an ad on my roof. How about a big Budweiser on the roof of my garage. :)

    Living in a university town, my fear would be of students showing up at 3:00 am on a Friday night/Saturday morning, wanting beer after the parties they were at ran out. I can imagine the chants, “We want Bud. We want Bud. We want Bud,” with synchronized clapping and foot stomping accompanying the shouts.

    It would be a bit funny to see Ford Field in Detroit covered by a big GM advertisement. There would be your first legal battle.

    What legal rights does a person have in the use of their property and location in advertising and publicity? It’s a good question. Would a Google have to get permission to advertise on someone’s rooftop, or in their field, or upon a tree in their yard? What happens when one political party or another tries to place their political ads on top of the governor’s mansion or statehouse or legislative hall?

    I think most people may assume that if an ad of strategic size and shape appears over a building in a map it is suggesting that the business is actually located there.

    That could be pretty misleading. By placing maps in the “area of interest” so that people don’t ignore them like they might with ads in a sidebar, there is the risk of that kind of confusion.

    Maybe you could toggle various business classes of ads such as food, retail, service, entertainment…. and have rotations for locations with multiple tenants.

    That reminds me a little of Yahoo’s Trip Planner, where they have different overlays for people to use so that if they are interested in finding hotels in a location, they choose the hotel view, and for restaurants, would trigger the restaurant view. But that shows the actual locations of those types of businesses, and aren’t advertisments. I do think that there is the potential for confusion with these types of ads. It will be interesting to see what comes of the ideas expressed in this patent filing.

    I like the idea of virtual billboards off properties the best because they would create less confusion and conflicts.

    Less messy potential legal issues, too.

    As far as ads on people’s rooftop? It would be just like ads on a site, being able to block and allow specific advertisers or ad classes would be important.

    Would Google have to have permission from a property owner to use their rooftops for ads, and would they have to give them the ability to block specific advertisers? They are interesting questions. As for letting the market decide the answers to these questions, I imagine that it’s possible that the courts will get involved somehow if ads like these start appearing.

  8. With many of these issues we can ask ourselves “Is it legal to do this?” and also “What is the respectable approach and the best product for those involved?” .

    Google may be legally able to put hemorrhoids ointment ads over the rooftops of everybody in a neighborhood or business district. And they may be able to get by covering a Wal-Mart with a Target ad, but is that any way to run a respectable business and expect to be well received?

    I think Google and most of the large scale map providers would take the respectable route here which will be the most profitable in the long run. Most of these will be non-issues if they produce a great product for all sides and not one that ticks people off.

    students showing up at 3:00 am on a Friday night/Saturday morning, wanting beer after the parties they were at ran out. I can imagine the chants, “We want Bud. We want Bud. We want Bud,” with synchronized clapping and foot stomping accompanying the shouts.

    On second thought, change my garage rooftop ad to one for Verizon. At least now when they show up chanting at 3:00 in the morning all I will have to do is open the window and shout back “Yes, I can hear you now!” and they will leave. :)

  9. I still think there would be a lot of legal complications. Because the ads are appearing on a map I think many would assume that since the ad is shown in that location it’s where the business is located. If not they would probably assume the business that is located there at least endorses the company advertising above their roof.

    What would happen if I painted an ad directly on my roof and Google covered up my ad with their own? What happens when an ad for an adult leaning dating service is placed above the roof of a church? or an elementary school?

    Beyond any legal complications though the ads would make the map much less useful, possibly to the point of them being useless. Maps aren’t just abstract shapes. There’s a lot of information packed into them which the ads would obscure.

    Seeing an area in green tells you a park might be located in that area. With an ad on top you lose that information. Also it’s one thing to see roads clearly when they contrast with solid blocks of color. Those roads will become much harder to see when the area next to them is an ad that potential will be flashing on and off.

    It’s not always easy to orient yourself when you first look at a map even if online you can zero in on any point quickly. Ads will just make that harder.

    For everyone who would be happy collecting the money Google would give you what makes you think they’d give you anything. If you don’t have the right to determine what is or isn’t appearing over your roof then Google certainly doesn’t have to worry about you having any right to that money.

  10. With many of these issues we can ask ourselves “Is it legal to do this?” and also “What is the respectable approach and the best product for those involved?”.

    Ideally, an advertising system like this would be set up so that the respectable and best approach is the one adopted. I’m wondering though, if bidding upon locations may carry some risks that bidding upon keywords doesn’t.

    Some good points, Steven. I wonder if Google did implement this, and chose to use an overlay that didn’t show by default, how many people would switch over to the view with advertisements. Would they if those ads were tied to things like coupons, or to information about coming events?

  11. agreed, there would be a hurdle in getting folks to turn on an ad overlay. i was also thinking coupons might be a way to do it, and events like you mention could work. a couple other options could be:

    a teaser where the overlay would appear at the first visit then fade away after a few seconds

    have a very limited view of the overlay, maybe 1 or two ads with one of those coupons mixed in and present the option to turn on more.

    or make it interactive and sticky like a game. show 3 ads and one coupon along with a button to clear the first four items and show a new three ads with a new coupon all in new locations. people may do this just to see where stuff pops up.

    I’m wondering though, if bidding upon locations may carry some risks that bidding upon keywords doesn’t.

    I can see problems if property owners or tenants are stuck in a bidding war for their own rooftop. we already have an issue similar in some ways with the bidding on trademarks in adwords, but this issue came up with a lot of trademark precedence already in place and ways to deal with it. maybe something has already been determined for this kind of thing, I guess I don’t know.

  12. Well I’m surprised you would have the option to choose if Google puts ads on your rooftop or not. I would rather get paid for the ad, rather than have the ad shown without my permission, or knowledge of them doing so. This is assuming the ad is an intangible item, and not physically placed on the rooftop. This approach would seem to make more sense.

  13. Hi Al,

    The patent filing describes an intangible ad on rooftops, that would only be seen by people viewing the area in Google Maps.

    I just checked on the status of this patent application, and it looks like it might have been abandoned by Google.

    It’s possible that they might try to revive it at some point in time, but for now their pursuit of this patent appears to be over.

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