January 19, 2019

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Widgets Replacing Web Ads?

Widgets Replacing Web Ads?

The recent news that widget creation shop Slide.com has received a $50 million [funding](http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jan2008/tc20080118_811726.htm) infusion–an amount based reportedly on a valuation of $500 million–makes now seem like a good time to write something that has been playing around in the back of my mind for a while.
I’ve previously praised a couple of movie studios for working more widgets (sometimes used to countdown to the debut of trailers, for example) into their movie marketing campaigns. That sort of thing is what Slide and other widget creators are all about: making little fragments of software that people can take with them to their own blogs or social network profile pages.
The goal of a widget is that it’s so good, so relevant, so engaging to the viewer that they’re compelled to share it with others. You create an item that plays a video, shows items for sale, or pulls in data of some sort or another, and it’s designed to appeal to people for whom that sort of thing can add value.
But what no one has come out and stated clearly is that widgets are simply unpaid advertisements.
Don’t misunderstand me, someone’s getting paid – the digital agency or other creator of the widget. That’s why Slide was able to secure such funding. But the people who place the widgets on their sites or profiles aren’t getting paid.
Let me say that clearly: Bloggers and social network users are not being paid when they are placing items on their sites or profiles that are often branded and at least promotional in nature if not overtly designed to drive e-commerce traffic.
By most non-Web 2.0 definitions that’s an advertisement.
But people have been only too happy to place these items on segments of their virtual real estate. According to comScore, Slide widgets alone reach 150 million Internet users, just behind Amazon.com in terms of total audience. And they’ve built that reach the hard way, with distributed content and not by driving traffic to a single destination.
Because of close parallels to actual paid ads it’s no surprise marketers are flocking towards widgets and building them into more of the marketing plans they create. Traditional public relations uses ad equivalency, the calculation of how much a story mention would equate to if they were to buy an ad of that size, to justify budgets. While there are obvious problems with that model it’s a widely accepted standard in the print world and one that practitioners often attempt (unsuccessfully) to apply to online media.
Interestingly, widgets offer perhaps the best tool to which to apply this ruler. A pretty clear line can be drawn between a widget that is 200 X 200 pixels placed voluntarily and a 200 X 200 pixel ad that’s placed as part of an ad buy.
This sort of de facto advertising, ads that are the very epitome of permission-based, is an area marketers need to continue to tread carefully in. You can’t expect to create a widget with sub-par content and expect it to reach mass adoption. In fact you probably can’t count on any widget attaining that level. But the key to getting people to place a widget on their site is good content. It should add to and not just clutter up a site. If you’re not putting a lot of thought into what the community is looking for the best advice is to just not do it.
Or save it for the ad buy.
*Chris Thilk is a Chicago-based new media PR specialist and writer of [MovieMarketingMadness.com](http://moviemarketingmadness.com)*

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