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Ads in the Gmail Tabbed Inbox

One of the features of the new Gmail tabbed inbox is email-like ads placed by Gmail.

Screenshot of the new Gmail ads.

Screenshot of the new Gmail ads.


When you click on an ad, it opens up into a new window, behaving very similarly to an email. People can even forward the email to another person.
What the user sees when the click on an ad

What the user sees when the click on an ad


This new ad type and the placement in the promotions tab has generated a lot of discussion on a number of different things related to email, abuse and spam.

  1. Is this an email? 
  2. Is this covered under CAN SPAM?
  3. If it is covered under CAN SPAM, is Google violating the law by not providing an opt out?
  4. Is Gmail acting abusive?
  5. Should anti-abuse groups take a stand against Google doing this?
  6. Should marketing groups take a stand against Google for doing this?

I’ll talk a little more about these questions in upcoming blog posts. But before I do, I’d love to hear from folks here what you think about these questions. And what do you think of the new tabbed inboxes?

13 comments

  1. David Romerstein says

    (Commenting from my phone)
    1) no
    2) no
    3) not applicable
    4) unless this is a significant increase in the number of ads Gmail is displaying to a user, no, probably not
    5) no
    6) possibly. If the marketing associations consider this abusive, they may want to codify a set of better practices.

  2. Chad White says

    I’d have to say no to all those questions. It’s not an email. It’s an ad and clearly labelled such, and therefore not subject to CAN-SPAM. As with every other platform that includes ads, I will leave it up to users to decide if there are too many ads or overly intrusive ads. Facebook, Twitter and other platforms have advertisements “in stream” so if you see this move by Gmail in that light it’s not shocking nor outrageous–perhaps it’s even overdue. Since “in stream” ads perform much better than ads in the margin, marketers will likely welcome this new advertizing vehicle.

  3. Huey says

    Yeah, the more I think about it, the more it seems like this should be something marketers would like.
    ‘Guaranteed inbox’ has been something unscrupulous ESPs have been promising to deliver, and senders of all stripes have been trying to achieve. The worst ones have a long chain of waterfall-and-listwash, the best ones build a good system for collecting and verifying addresses of people who want the mail, with good list hygiene, frequency that makes sense, and relevance to ensure people are getting the mail they want,. And everyone else is somewhere in between, and the sad truth is that nobody ever gets to ‘guaranteed inbox’.
    Now, all of the sudden, the game has changed. You can avoid all of the time, effort, and hassle of any of that (knowing that you could still fail anyway) and just hand Google a wad of money. The Holy Grail of email marketing is for sale, cheap. Why WOULDN’T marketers love that?

  4. dialogue1 E-Mail-Marketing Blog says

    Gmail Tabbed Inbox macht Druck…
    Es gibt einen weiteren Grund für Versender, den Tab “Werbung” im überarbeiteten Gmail-Postfach zu meiden wie der Teufel das Weihwasser: Google platziert hier nämlich Werbung, welche optisch an E-Mails angelehnt sind. Laura Atkins von Word to the Wise…

  5. Neil Schwartzman says

    Huey, of course, marketers love it. Email marketers, on the other hand, do not, since this means budgets may shift elsewhere. Oh well.

  6. steve says

    It’s visible in your inbox, with a sender and subject line like an email. You can forward it to others as an email, just like an email. You can delete it, just like an email. New ones will arrive, just like email.
    The UI for these advertising messages is slightly different from other gmail messages – but the UI for normal email marketers using schemas (https://developers.google.com/gmail/schemas/) is also different at gmail. (And on my desktop Mail.app client, mail from Apple is displayed differently to mail from anyone else…).
    That it wasn’t delivered via SMTP isn’t really relevant – historically no email was delivered via SMTP, and even today there’s a lot of email that is delivered over non-SMTP protocols.
    If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Or, in this case, an email. It reminds me of the “bulletin” feature some POP3 mailservers have, which allow the operator of the mail server to insert an email in every users inbox, without the overhead of actually delivering a unique message to every user.
    The mailbox doesn’t belong to the user, it belongs to gmail, so the rest of the questions aren’t really relevant. It’s been accepted for a long time that email from the owner of the mailbox (e.g. your ISP) aren’t a spam issue – at worst they’re a customer service issue. The same applies if you consider them to be google provided ads instead of google provided emails. If you don’t want to see advertising, don’t use an advertising supported service.
    There are lots of interesting questions to consider about what Google is doing here (and what it implies about the advertisers who are buying this sort of marketing, and the business models of those who send advertising mail to Google subscribers) but I don’t think that abuse issues are one of them.

  7. Neil Schwartzman says

    It doesn’t show up in your inbox by IMAP or Pop, unlike email.
    Is not sent by SMTP, unlike email.
    A rose by any other name … is still an ad in the chrome.

  8. Neil Schwartzman says

    “That it wasn’t delivered via SMTP isn’t really relevant – historically no email was delivered via SMTP”
    True, but after 1982 it was.

  9. steve says

    A lot of email isn’t delivered via SMTP today (technically almost none is, but that’s a different issue).
    As just one example, Outlook doesn’t speak SMTP when talking to Exchange. At all. So any mail sent from a user on an Exchange domain to another user on the same Exchange domain probably doesn’t touch SMTP at all.

  10. steve says

    A more directly relevant “email isn’t delivered via SMTP” situation is mail from one gmail user to another. That’s delivered directly, not via SMTP, as far as I can tell.
    The same would be true for most mail from one user on an ISP to another user on the same ISP. There’s no inter-MTA SMTP going on. The initial injection might be via SMTP, but might also be via SUBMIT (SMTP-like, but not quite) or via a webmail interface or via one of several other rarely used non-SMTP submission protocols. It’s still email.

  11. Mohammed says

    Well, if these addresses collected with user’s consent then why not deliver mail to inbox in promotion tab and it looks like a Ad. Not sure what is the pricing on it but if mailers want to keep that budget and has good mailing practices then my all means, it is not a bad idea.

  12. Ottomatic says

    AdBlock Plus automatically removes the Gmail inbox ads……doesn’t get any simpler than that.

  13. Bill Cole says

    spam.
    1. NO
    2. NO
    3. NA
    4. NO
    5. NO
    6. I’m unqualified to answer and frankly don’t give a damn.

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