This InternetRetailer.com article on eBags.com moving more of their marketing budget to search listings is fairly typical of what we are seeing happening with online marketing. I’ve long preached “context is the only way” for online advertising.
People are task driven online and want to reach some goal. If you can align advertising with the goal of the user, you will benefit them, and yourself. This strategy is what’s behind the success of search engine links like Google’s Adwords. Because the ads are in context and can be considered largely “content” on the page (i.e. the ads match what the user asked to see) they are more effective at moving the user to their goal and therefore more effective for the marketer because the marketer’s message is actually wanted by these users. This has to be more effective then distracting people from their task because they meet some demographic or interest expectation in the marketer’s mind — “I’ll promote the new Malibu on this mom’s site because women visit that site and they’re my target market”. Or worse yet, just distracting anyone that stops by because the CPC deal lets you blanket the net with pop-ups.
I’m watching for a major overhaul of online marketing towards context and tight alignment with content over the next few years. I’ve been calling for this since 1997 but with Google and Overture showing people what it looks like in reality, it may finally catch on.