Google to Sell Circular-Style Ads: Can I Get an Amen?

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Google wants to bring the circular ads that filled out the Sunday paper into the Internet age, Bloomberg reports, and I couldn't be happier about it. I loved the old electronics ads of the Sunday Paper Era. They provided a weekly snapshot of the state of the computer revolution in print, or so it seemed to me.

When my dad brought in The Columbian, our local newspaper, I used to glance at the front page and then snatch up the sports section. Sure, the coverage was skimpy, often little more than AP cutups, but I wasn't really interested in a Grantland-deep dive. I was usually after the ad on the back of the sports section, which (though I'm sure this isn't technically true) was always placed by Fry's, the electronics giant.

This ad was a publication of its own, I was sure. It had a logic! They knew just how to tease me, especially at the low-end of the price range. There'd be some astoundingly cheap memory stick or stick of RAM. Sometimes, with a mail-in rebate they would even advertise FREE STUFF. And while looking for the deal my middle school self could make, I'd check out the monitors and hard drives, the stereo equipment, the latest PC games. I savored the Fry's ad in all its overcrowded glory, not least because the Fry's ad gave me warm and fuzzy memories of paging through the ads in Computer Shopper as if it were the September issue of Vogue. Even better, thanks to Moore's Law, Fry's prices for the same equipment were always falling.

And, of course, both the Fry's ad and Computer Shopper simulated the overwhelming experiencing of walking into a massive electronics store. I didn't know what half the stuff in there did, nor do I know now. Yet I could spend hours wandering around, even if at the end of the trip, I'd only purchased one of those compressed air cans or a new mousepad. Fry's was the opposite of the Apple Store experience. It was daunting and exciting. There be (dungeons and) dragons! That was the state of the industry at that time. It still felt like a place you explored and those you found in the frontier shops were fellow travelers.

I don't know if Google's ads will be able to recreate that same experience for a younger generation. They are used to the actual infinitude of today's online retailers. On the other hand, with the rise of advertiser-sponsored viral videos and all other kinds of sponsored content, everyone is now used to consuming advertising as if it were regular old media.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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