Microsoft Unveils Smarter Web Ads

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft researchers are working on ways to make web advertising even smarter. They want to teach computers to do a more accurate job of targeting ads, by specifying which to put into video clips, and those for more specific users.

They demonstrated the techniques at their headquarters this week. The timing may be an intentional effort to boost their bid for Yahoo which, if successful, would make Microsoft the second biggest Internet ad seller behind Google. (Source:

The demonstration included a 'dashboard' which advertisers can use to predict how well particular keyword advertising will work. The firm is also working on new ways to buy advertising based around a general theme rather than specific keywords.

However, Microsoft says such adverts, which respond to terms that users search for, are not the only way web advertising can work. They say such keyword advertising is only so popular because of the success of Google. A spokesman made the rather spectacular claim that "we are developing advertising algorithms that can anticipate and understand consumer behavior faster than the speed of thought". (Source:

Some of the new techniques they showed off included software that can analyse a web video and find the least intrusive place to display an advertiser's logo (similar to the way TV companies superimpose their channel logo during a broadcast). Another demonstration involved a computer using voice recognition to 'hear' what is said during a video and provide appropriate text links to adverts.

Microsoft is also working on a new touch screen system to make an interactive shopping kiosk, complete with adverts and 'virtual' coupons. Another scheme would allow advertisers more control over avoiding advertising on sites which disparage their products or might link them to offensive content.

If Microsoft can produce genuinely better ways to target consumers with relevant ads, that's a winner for everyone. Advertisers get their message across efficiently, consumers get information on products they will find useful, and Microsoft rake in the cash. However, if the new-wave ads are so obtrusive that they spoil the user's 'online experience', the developments could backfire.

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