IM aggregator and chat room service provider Meebo has reached what CEO Seth Sternberg thinks is the critical mass necessary to get into the consumer advertising business, and has launched its first serious advertising play. Meebo's SparkAds are text blurbs that run inside Meebo chat rooms. They're context-sensitive, aware of what people are talking about. But they're not so sensitive that the experience is different for all users. This is their strength.
If you're in a Meebo room and you see an ad for a product, Meebo has it set up so everyone sees the same ad, at the same time. This bucks the hyper-customized trend that Google has been pushing, in which there's a personal and random factor to which ad shows up on a page, and where there's no guarantee that two people looking at the same content will see the same ad package.
Meebo's reason for this: The company understands that most users will ignore most ads, but that, on occasion, a user who sees an ad and expands its message might want to share that experience with the group. And it is much easier for one person to say to the group, "That ad that just went by is really cool," than it is for that person to have to first determine if the ad he saw was also seen by others.
Advertising is, after all, a game of multiples. You blanket a ton of people with your message, hoping that a small fraction of them will notice it, and that some of them might even act on it. What SparkAds does is increase the multiplier slightly, by making it easy for users to share reactions to messages.
It's ironic that the most popular social platforms provide highly individual experiences to their users, where this concept won't work. Each Facebook user's experience is different, so social ad sharing wouldn't quite work on the main site. Ditto Twitter.
However, people running products with "rooms" would do well to think about how they can enable advertisers to send messages to the groups in them, instead of just the individuals. I'm thinking, in particular, of FriendFeed, which has a new Rooms feature, as well as all the platforms that collate reaction posts into single locations. In this group is FriendFeed, again, as well as the new Plurk, and most of the video-sharing sites, and every blog commenting platform out there.
Factoring a community's discussion into an advertising equation could increase its effectiveness just a little bit, but at the consumer advertising scale, that equals real money.