Nearly eight years ago, Google's then-vice president of search products and user experience, Marissa Mayer, wrote a blog post saying that the company would never run banner ads in search results or on the Google home page.
That promise appears to be in the process of being broken, reported SearchEngineLand, as a screenshot by Dallas-based Web marketing app maker Synrgy shows an experimental, enormous banner ad at the top of search results for "Southwest Airlines."
"There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or Web search results pages. There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever," Mayer wrote, as part of a response to a search deal with AOL.
A Google spokesperson said the experiment was running only in the US market, and described it to CNET as "very limited."
It is possible that Google sees the test not as contravening that 2005 promise, but as an expansion of the image sizes available to advertisers that it began to run in search ads over the summer. The practice could call into question what constitutes a banner ad: Are banner ads any ad that stretches the width of the Web site, or are they limited to short, wide ads that contain "crazy, flashy, graphical doodads"?
Whatever Google's intentions with the ads, its lack of a forthright answer about what it is doing with them won't win the company any brownie points.
Updated at 2:04 p.m. PT: with statement from Google and additional information.