Reaching consumers is not always as easy for advertisers as it was before the advent of today's always-connected, multichannel world. Many audiences are fragmented and truly captive audiences are hard-to-find.
Now it looks like you may soon find ads in yet another place: those CAPTCHAs you fill out online to prove that you're human. TechFlash has discovered a Microsoft patent application that contemplates including ads or ad-based messaging in the CAPTCHAs. Microsoft thinks they'll even be fun:
Because the advertisements can be vibrant, colorful, and informative, the ad-based HIP challenges can be designed to be more engaging and interesting for users to solve. Compared to conventional character-based HIPs which use a similar looking HIP where only the characters to be identified differ from challenge to challenge, the present ad-based HIP challenges can vary considerably in look and feel and have no real limits to the creative expression that may be utilized when designing them. As a result, the ad-based HIP challenges can be purposefully designed to remain fresh, or even entertaining and fun to solve for some users.
I wouldn't go that far but it is an interesting idea. I suspect that recall for CAPTCHA-based ads would be high, although it's unclear as to whether or not a CAPTCHA that's promotional in nature might be confusing to some users and scare them away from actually completing the CAPTCHA, which would defeat the purpose.
Needless to say, it will be interesting to see if Microsoft actually does something with this. Ostensibly its patent application might deter others from entering the soon-to-be multi-billion dollar CAPTCHA advertising market (note sarcasm) but for those who are asking "Why didn't I think of this?" and want to compete head-on with Microsoft with a CAPTCHA ad network, this post from 2005 discovered by the person who alerted TechFlash to Microsoft's patent application might be helpful in asserting prior art.