Prove You’re Human. Type Our Slogan

Fed up with trying to interpret those meaningless distorted CAPTCHA word-pictures? New York-based startup Solve Media wants to turn your irritation into ad dollars.



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.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.