But this is what gets me. In all of the reporting on this story, I didn't come upon a single instance where the reporter or blogger bothered to check the ads themselves.
It's actually quite simple. As longtime readers know, my family established long ago that I am not nearly as smart as I think I am, so if I can manage this, then so can any cub reporter with fresher synapses.
I ran a handful of common searches at m.google.com and came up with some pretty impressive results.
"Britny": "Did you mean Britney Spears?" Yes, I am ashamed to say. I won't dwell on the quality of the content hits (though they were good)) and scroll way way down to the ads themselves. In fact I am wondering how the ads get noticed at all when they are planted at the end of an extraordinarily long scroll of links. I found an interesting plug for credit card debt relief, and rather than a link through to a landing page, the ad gave me only a click-to-call button. In addition, I got the ubiquitous "100% MP3 Ringtones" pitch for mobile content from Jamster. Apparently this ad is relevant everywhere and any time, because I have seen it now on celebrity searches and local food searches.
"Pizza 19711": If this clichéd search doesn't deliver optimal results and matched ads, then you know something is broken. The results again were good, topping the list with links to local businesses rather than the images that headlined the celebrity search. Either for lack of localized ads or because the system is just that smart, this search left well enough alone. It didn't try to layer ads on top of the pizza directory listings. All I got were direct links to businesses.
"OJ": Okay, I wanted to screw with Google's head a bit here, and I almost succeeded. The engine wanted to give me airline information and then nearby businesses that started with O.J. While it correctly found some Wikipedia references to Simpson himself, it was good to see that Google didn't even attempt to run any ads beneath these results.
"Fashion": This is the search that got Yahoo in my bad graces a few weeks ago when it used the term to push searchers to partner Elle's coverage of Fashion Week. Google does a bit better on the content side, although most of its hits land on full-blown Web pages that warp terribly on the phone. But the ads are only vaguely related. Cellfire, the mobile coupon service, tried to reel us in with a hook about getting free music. And ItsMy.com links to a mobile dating and social network. What is interesting about ItsMy.com is that the mobile site is the first I happened upon that is carrying the Google mobilized AdSense contextual ads. In this case it is a big, honking blue box that occupies about a quarter of the screen with an ad for a weight loss link.
In my limited test of several other terms, Google made good on its promise to filter out AdWord and AdSense ads that didn't land on mobile-friendly pages. In that sense the experience did not seem cluttered with garbage that a mindless automaton tossed onto WAP sites.
But I sense that mobile search ads are as much an opportunity for other mobile content, especially media branded content, as it is for direct marketers. The unspoken cold hard truth of mobile advertising right now is that the banner and text spaces are choked with cheesy ads for more downloadables. Go to one off-portal mobile site that sells ringtones and you may well see an ad for another service that sells wallpapers. I am reminded of an old line from James Cain's "Postman Always Rings Twice." The Depression-era hobo hero looks out on a modern American service economy of stores rather than factories. He snipes that "The whole damn country is just selling hot dogs to one another." On mobile decks sometimes it feels like everyone is just selling ringtones to one another. Oddly enough, it is the low level of mobile ad creative that opens an opportunity for the clever, the attractive, the familiar.
I happened upon several AdWord ads for media like Ellegirl.com that had the effect of reminding me there was a mobile extension to their site. As a way of invigorating the mobile media eco-system, mobile search ads could be an important driver. Users will tire of having those "free" ringtones pushed at them left and right. Having an actual recognizable media brand pop up in the context of my search is sure to stand out, at least for a while. It remains to be seen how SEO for mobile is going to shake out, and whether branded media will be able to float to the top on these engines as effectively as some of them have on the Web. For now, however, there is an opportunity to rise above the clutter, even if it is at the bottom of a mobile search results page that is only slightly shorter than the Torah.