This Business 2.0 article gives details on Autobytel’s new contextual ads for competitive products strategy.

“Here’s how it works. Say you’re interested in a Honda (HMC) Accord. You surf to and click through to the Accord research page. Splashed across the top, above all that detailed Accord data, is a box labeled “Sponsored by Ford.” It jeers: “The Ford Taurus has a larger engine than the Honda Accord DX.” An adjacent link takes you to the Ford web site for more details on the Taurus where, the theory goes, you’ll soon forget all about the Accord.”

The biggest issue I see with this approach is Autobytel’s credibility in consumers’ eyes. If someone goes to the site to research Honda’s and sees the page is sponsored by Ford, my guess is many users will be skeptical not only of the sponsored link copy but of the entire page — maybe the entire site.

Autobytel ends up looking like it is pimping for Ford rather than providing unbiased research on cars.