Is it differentiation or desperation? That’s for you to decide but Yahoo definitely thinks the former when it comes to its introduction of rich media to search ads.

With its new Rich Ads in Search program, Yahoo is allowing advertisers to include images, video and even site search forms with their search ads.

According to the Yahoo Search Marketing Blog:

Ever since we launched pay-per-click advertising, the ads have looked more or less the same: A headline, a line of ad copy, a link. They haven’t changed because, frankly, the combination works pretty well. But what if search ads could show more?

By offering advertisers the ability to use rich media, Yahoo claims that some have seen their “click-through rates rise by as much as 25 percent.” That’s obviously a big jump.

But is this at the expense of the user experience? Obviously, the use of images and video will make ads more noticeable to users, who will in turn be more likely to click on them. In the past, it was revealed that many users – perhaps a majority – cannot distinguish between paid search ads and organic listings.

In the end, Rich Ads in Search’s viability will come down to ROI. These ads have to not only deliver results beyond clickthroughs, they have to deliver results when the cost of producing more creative is factored in to the equation.

Currently Yahoo says the program is being used by “a small number of brand advertisers such as Pedigree and Esurance and agencies such as Razorfish“. I’ll look forward to hearing the results and seeing if this is rolled out on a larger scale.