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Ad’ blindness coming to a PDF near you!

In an effort to drive more ad’ revenue, Adobe and Yahoo! announced an advertising platform for PDF documents. At first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking ill of such an apparent “me too!” affair. But there’s some innovation in this iterative idea…

It’s no secret that Yahoo! isn’t the powerhouse that Google is when it comes to advertising, and Adobe is at best nascent. So first impressions might leave you doubting the strength of such a partnership.

Documents like PDF’s or Microsoft Office files are routinely indexed by search engines. By including Yahoo! advertising in PDF’s, Adobe is allowing their customers to monetize a store of information that would normally drop off the radar in terms of advertising and revenue.

Of course, not everyone is going to be interested in such things, but for the likes of those that publish ebooks, it’s a neat, contextual method of monetizing an intangible product.

There’s also the promise of a new class of ebook — one that is ad-supported. So an ebook publisher could offer a paid-for edition and ‘free’ ad-supported edition, too.

An additional benefit to contextual advertising within a PDF is one of usuability. If you’re reading a PDF, chances are, you’re using something like Adobe Reader or some other PDF-aware application. Any link that is clicked would most probably launch a web browser and the document you were reading stays just where it is; unlike advertising on web pages, where you’re invariably taken away from the original page.

All of this PDF advertising stuff came to my attention late last week, which prompted me to comment in an article regarding the Adobe-Yahoo! ad’ deal, which spawned an interesting discussion between Vikram and myself:

“Given that PDF content is indexed by the search engines, I’m surprised something like this hasn’t emerged sooner.

Might we expect Microsoft to do the same thing with Office documents?

Ad’ blindness comes to a PDF near you!”

To which Vikram, of Digital Musings replied:

“But Unlike Adobe who have the monopoly on PDF format, Microsoft has already a lot of competition in the office suite market.

Most of these are Open Source, and aren’t ad’ supported, so introducing ads in the document format may push users into moving onto other office applications.

Although it would really be interesting for content publishers to publish ads in this format. But ask yourself once, would you like to see Google or those kind of ads if you were reading a thesis, information resource or a sample resume?”

And he’s right. But as I said, this would be an elective thing — not all would choose ad-supported PDF content.

In the grand scheme of things, while Microsoft could probably offer a similar scheme, their options are somewhat limited because of their absolute dependence on the revenues from Office:

“Taking the Microsoft Office topic a little further, there are even greater challenges for Microsoft; in that they’re presently struggling to assemble a meaningful version of Office for the web that isn’t likely to devour their paid-for version in the process…”

It’s also quite likely that Adobe will roll in their new ad-supported platform to their now less new Buzzword web word processor:

“Office productivity is processor-light stuff, nothing that’s going to tax the resources of your computer, let alone your web browser. So it’s relatively easy to go in that direction. And when Adobe rolled out Buzzword, their web-based word processor, I wasn’t entirely surprised.”

So what Adobe has achieved is to step out into a known wilderness where Microsoft may very well fear to tread.

The overarching problem is that as advertising becomes ever more pervasive, we become more and more blind to such things. That’s the challenge for the advertisers to solve, which will require something special…

As advertising evolves

Some time ago, I asked a deceptively simple question: will everything on the web one day be free? My angle of approach to this question was one of ad-supported content and services.

At the time, it was possible to see a point in the future where ad-supported content and services could play a significant part in making certain aspects of the web cost free, but ‘premiumized’ content and services would probably remain a key differentiator. So the simple answer was no, because:

  1. some people will always value original premium content and services — happy to pay extra for such things;
  2. that some people simply find advertising irrelevant and annoying;
  3. or that certain content and services simply don’t lend themselves to ad-supported schemes.

But since then, I asked another question: will advertising ever not be annoying? And I think there’s a chance advertising could be significantly less annoying, if we accept that at some point the advertisers may know enough about us to ensure their adverts are tailored to our tastes with suitable precision.

And it’s this specificity that’s the challenge for those advertisers hoping to make money from such things as in-game advertising for video games, where context is essential, as well as interactive in-page ecommerce, which removes several key steps in the buying process, making purchasing simpler.

And more recently, we’re now seeing the reach of advertising extending — seemingly inexorably — into ‘off-line’ content, such as PDF documents.

Where will it all end? It won’t end. In the rush to be wherever the human eye or ear is to be found, advertising will work harder to appeal to our tastes and feelings, too…

Recommended reading

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

2 replies on “Ad’ blindness coming to a PDF near you!”

Hello Wayne,

This is an enlightening post. It was indeed an engaging conversation in the comments section on my blog. It made me think and I got to learn a few things from your perspective as well.

I would be writing about this further especially in reference to our conversation. Keep up the good work!

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