Media Planning & Buying

Gmail’s New Visual Promotions Tab Gives Brands Richer Creative Opps

March 27, 2014

Google has announced a trial update to Gmail which would provide users with a completely different look to their inboxes. Gmail users that opt-in and are selected for the trial will be given the ability to toggle the Promotions tab of their Gmail inbox between the standard view and a more visual “grid view” as shown in the animation below (via Google).

The announcement should pique the interest of marketers, especially those who may have seen dips in their email marketing performance since Google first moved to the tabbed-inbox format that separated marketing emails from the main inbox in their own tab. By displaying promotional emails in a visual, Pinterest-esque way, Google is helping brands surface creative from within the email and helping them to stand out in a way that they couldn’t before with text alone. Google has provided a developer’s blog update with instructions for marketers seeking to optimize their emails for this layout (Hint: Brands will need a verified Google+ page).

While this update presents a new opportunity for marketers in the email space, it also reveals Google’s strategy for its Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSP) beta, and specifically, for the Rich Promotions creative update that was announced to advertisers that were already using the beta back in February.

Gmail Sponsored Promotions 101

GSP allows advertisers to reach people’s inboxes in a way that the Google Display Network cannot, with completely separate inventory. Using “teaser” copy and the company logo, marketers can reach targeted users with the ads in their Gmail inboxes in several different ways. When in standard view of the Promotions tab, the teasers are served in the space above the inbox, mimicking the look of actual emails.

Additionally, when viewing an individual email, a text-and-logo teaser is shown to the right.

In any instance of the teaser, once a user clicks it, they remain within their Gmail inbox and are shown a large “canvas” which visually looks like a promotional email, within which advertisers have the full flexibility of an HTML-based email. From there, depending on how the canvas is designed, a user can click to go off-site, or fill out a form within the canvas itself. Users are also given the ability to save the canvas to their inbox for later viewing, or forward it along to a friend.

Rich Promotions in GSP

The change to the teaser creative that Google announced in its February announcement to all advertisers was, for many, a bit of a curve ball. Moving forward, an additional, larger visual element called a Rich Promotion image wound be required from brands creating new ads. This new creative piece would be used alongside the company logo and teaser title (that were already being used in the existing teaser model) to create the Rich Promotion ad unit.

The teaser title in the example provided above indicates a longer character length than what is currently allowed, which could be hinting at a future character increase to align with the look of the natural emails in this view. Shy of future developments, and depending on how an advertiser may have approached copy development before Rich Promotions, the text included may need to be edited to take fuller advantage of all the characters available, to cut down on as much blank space as possible and to possibly include a stronger call-to-action.

In the weeks after Google added these Rich Promotion requirements, the actual units were seemingly absent from serving within Gmail. However, with this latest announcement, it is now evident that these Rich Promotions are intended to show alongside similar-looking email units, similar to how paid search ads versus organic results appear in a Search Engine Results Page. Comparing Google’s examples of the standard view and the grid view, the order of emails remains the same, as does the location of the ad in that first position.

What can we expect in GSP’s future?

As GSP is still very much a beta product, there will likely be continued tinkering with the appearance and functionality of the ads. Now that we know where these Rich Promotion units fit within the overall Gmail strategy though, some interesting questions have arisen for marketers:

  • Will Google expand the Rich Promotions inventory to include more ad inventory further down the grid view inbox? If so, this would allow marketers to find an ideal position, as perhaps top of page is not necessary to achieve one’s DR or branding goals.
  • Will the character limit be increased to allow the Rich Promotion units the same flexibility as the natural emails that show in the grid view? Keeping these settings on par with other emails in an inbox will allow a more consistent feel for the user.
  • Will the standard teasers remain as they currently exist within GSP, or will updates to the Rich Promotions now affect how the once-standard teasers appear? If the Rich Promotion teasers are to overtake the current standard marketers will need to adjust their creative strategy with that focus in mind.

Overall, this update provides a richer ad experience (hence the name) with the potential for more prominent real estate and an added ability to make an ad pop with large imagery, both of which can help lead to a higher CTR. Armed with the creative resources needed to test multiple text and image combinations, marketers can eventually identify their top performers, and reach a sweet spot with improved CPC or CPA.