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The Influence Project

Registering for a Web service or site can be an exercise in frustration. Scrolling down the alphabetical list of countries to find your homeland is a pain (unless you happen to live in Afghanistan). Then there's finding a good available username and creating a password strong enough to meet a site's security requirements. But the last test is inevitably the most frustrating: a small box of distorted chicken-scratch that must be deciphered in order to complete the registration process. Users hate it—but now some advertisers see it as the next step of online advertising.

These challenge-response tests are there to prevent websites from becoming overrun by shadowy spam operators who use automated bots to sign up for legitimate-looking accounts. The tests are known as CAPTCHAs, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Putting a line through a word, or distorting it, makes it much harder for a spam bot to read. Trouble is, it's often pretty hard for use humans too.

Now New York-based startup Solve Media wants to keep that security measure, while turning your registration irritation into ad dollars. By swapping illegible text with an advertisement, Solve has created a system that is beneficial to both users and marketers. Instead of typing in a random assortment of letters and numbers, we soon could be entering a company slogan or a brand tagline.

Microsoft, for example, will ask users to type in "Browse Safer" as part of an advertisement for Internet Explorer. Toyota may ask you to type in a new theme its pushing. Perhaps other companies will take advantage of your undivided attention by implanting corporate messages into your conscious: "I want a Pop Tart" or "Coors Light Does Not Taste Like Urine."

It's all part of Solve's plan to create enhanced ad retention. CEO Ari Jacoby claims these "type-in" ads increase users' ad recall, just as writing down phone numbers or names makes them easier to remember.

Jacoby believes advertisers will pay somewhere between 25 to 50 cents for each CAPTCHA type-in. Solve Media will split revenues 50/50 with advertisers. Though those seem like high prices for an online ad, many companies have jumped on-board, including AOL, GE, Microsoft, and Toyota.

"Banner ads are easy to ignore," Kim Kyaw, senior media strategist at Toyota, told Ad Age. "We're very intrigued by this."

The big question over Solve's platform is whether its clear-text CAPTCHAs will retain the same security features of its scribbled predecessor. If the text is perfectly legible, won't bots and spammers be able to take advantage? According to Solve Media, the ads may look the same, but no two are ever identical. Each image will have a small change in pixilation that will make it just as hard for computers to decipher.

As the Internet continues to become more inundated with banners and pop-ups, brand influence is harder to spread online, especially with users' attention spans becoming shorter and more scattered. Solve's approach brings a refreshing and innovative take on CAPTCHAs, once considered the bane of any registration process.

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  • Jesus Christ

    I think this is a stupid way to piss off your users. Advertising can't be forced or invasive, or you will piss of the users, and they will never come back to your website. A surefire way to sink your business FAST. With so many competing websites on the internet, it's much easier to Google for an alternative than to put up with a website that serves captcha ads.

  • Ralph

    This seems like a good idea at the outset, but the major problem that is not addressed is that CAPTCHAs are automated, i.e. the tests are automatically generated (this is why the text normally consists of a string of random characters or words that have been visually twisted or deformed), and thus there is effectively an unlimited number of these tests available. When you start having advertisers submit adverts with text consisting of jingles and corporate messages, you limit the pool of possible tests significantly. And all you have to do is take a cursory look at research on computer vision to see that changing a few pixels in the advert is not going to stop automated programs from quickly learning whose corporate jingle goes with which image. Not to mention that you can pay users on systems like Amazon's Mechanical Turk to solve these tests for a fraction of what the advertisers are paying. I'm sorry, but this is more hype than anything.

  • Simma Lieberman

    Brilliant marketing, but just as irritating. Isn't there another way? My mind is already inundated with years of slogans and jingles that I can't get rid of.

    When someone asks to be on my mailing list or receive an article I wrote and I have to copy a captcha to send an email, I don't bother. Don't ask me to send something and then make it difficult.

    OTOH, I can understand CAPTCHAs for signing up on a website, but lately, they've become so distorted, it takes five times and a magnifying glass to get it right. That's only if it's important and I have the patience at that moment.

  • Andrea J. Phillips

    I just hope this doesn't lead to more invasive CAPTCHAs. Companies are scrambling for a way to advertise effectively online; they're desperate to reach out and touch someone. If a new CAPTCHA option delivers better results for advertisers, it will spread like wildfire. Before you know it, it's everywhere you want to be.

    If you don't like the new CAPTCHA system, you can still have it your way--you'll just have to let your fingers do the walking.

  • Sean

    <grouchyvoice>Beneficial - Right, because I'll benefit all the more, by another advertisement being pried into my lifestyle. Thanks.</grouchyvoice>