Google's bread and butter is traditional online advertising but that doesn't mean that the search giant isn't thinking of new and sometimes unconventional online ad models.

One possibility the search giant may be considering: allowing advertisers to display their ads in Google Street View. As reported by ReadWriteWeb, Google has been granted a new patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office that could open the company's popular (and sometimes controversial) Street View functionality to advertisers.

The patent, which makes for an interesting read, covers a system in which Google technology identifies points of interest in images and then allows advertisers to bid for advertising related to them. The ads can be text links associated with a point of interest, or Google can even enable the advertiser to replace part of the real image with an image provided by the advertiser.

ReadWriteWeb's Frederic Lardinois puts two and two together and writes "it looks like Google could potentially identify some billboards and banners in Street View images and then replace these real-life billboards with virtual ads from the highest bidders".

In essence, if Google ever implements the technology described in its patent, it could set itself up to become the Clear Channel of online billboards. Even though, of course, unlike Clear Channel, it doesn't actually own any of them.

Needless to say, Google has the potential to open a can of worms with this kind of technology. Some owners of the physical properties Google sells ads against may not be very happy about the virtual ads Google places on them in Street View, or about the possibility of paying to protect images of their properties. Companies like Clear Channel and their advertisers might also object to the possibility that their real-life billboards are 'hijacked' and replaced with virtual billboards. And as Lardinois points out, there are always thorny competition issues lurking. If you thought a competitor bidding on your company name in AdWords is bad, wait until they spend $5 per click plastering their virtual billboard over a real-life billboard you're paying tens of thousands of dollars each month for.

Of course, Google's patent is just that -- a patent. It's unlikely that artificial billboards will appear in Street View overnight. But Google is clearly thinking about ways it can take advantage of assets like Street View imagery to grow its online ad dominance. And it should. But if Google does implement something like this, the company should probably avoid stepping on too many toes.

Photo credit: PEEJ0E via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 12 January, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2642 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (5)


Chris Dalrymple

Surely more likely is offering advertisers the ability to add links and ad copy around their virutal presence in streetview - a shop, office building or hotel?

I.e. a hotel chain could add a links, special offers, email opt in etc on all photos of their hotels in streetview. Far more relevent than replacing billboards.

I've been using streetview fair bit recently and can't remember seeing a single billboard but I have looked at a lot of hotel locations.

The real controversy would therefore be 'wait until they spend $5 per click plastering their special offers over a real-life streetview building'.

over 8 years ago


Akash Sharma

I don't think its going to be a bad move at all to get digital with traditional channels of advertising, Though it would surely take time but would definitely mean that we get some niche advertising offline as well, Google changed the online advertising completely now its turn for the sibling. 

over 8 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


That's a good possibility but the patent also says:

The link can be associated with a property owner, for example the property owner which owns the physical property portrayed. The link can alternatively be associated with an advertiser who placed the highest bid on the image recognized within the region of interest (e.g., poster, billboard, banner, etc.).

Bidding, of course, implies competition. Who Google lets bid is a big deal. If the hotel chain in your hypothetical example is outbid by its rival, what happens? And what happens if somebody places advertising on a hotel Street View image that the hotel itself would never approve?

over 8 years ago

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

Google could either make a deal with Owners of the physical properties/billboards, or overlay their own 'virtual billboards' onto streetview wherever they want :-)

over 8 years ago

David Shiell

David Shiell, CEO / Founding Partner at House of Kaizen

The argument here is not whether Google will succeed in this been a profitable innovation but whether it will be legal?

I've seen a similar situation arise in the 90's when I was a TV buyer in Australia on the Ford Account. We used to buy a lot of ad space during the motor sport Touring Car season (e.g. Bathurst 1000). When the opportunity arose (via Network 10) to buy virtual ads plastered on the actual track I jumped at it. Sure we bought millions of dollars worth of TV ad breaks and had Ford billboards postered around the track that the cameras would occassionaly wizz past, but to be able to place a Ford logo on the track where the cars ran over it was mind blowing back then and of course increased our all important OTS (opportunity to see) metrics that the clients loved!

All this of course was too good to be true, as no sooner had we jumped on board with Network 10 and struck a season long deal than the existing outdoor and physical track advertisers started to cry 'no fair'!

I'm no lawyer so I'm not sure exactly what went on in the courts but ultimately virtual TV advertising won out (just as it should have) and found a comfortable place alongside the physcial advertising. In a well oiled ad-market economy the prices adjust, legals fall into place and supply is pushed by the demand of the buyers. We had the demand and the ad dollars...the outcome was inevitable...long live innovation!

Here at Web Liquid Group we will be lining up to test with Google on appropriate clients the moment they feel they have something worth trialling in this space.

over 8 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.