In-image advertising – take that, banners!

Raise your hand if you love banner ads…. Ok, not very many of you. And raise your hand if you love those horribly annoying video ads usually stuck on the right-hand side of your computer screen… Right, even fewer (yes, it’s possible the question was biased). Even the sprinkling of Google Ads on a content website is seen as damagingly irritating. Let’s face it, times are stressful for brands looking for innovative ways to hook the online audience, and for content sites struggling to make a living…

Enter the new-new thing in online marketing: in-image advertising. Ok, technically it’s not new-new, it’s been around since 2008. But it’s starting to gain traction, and software and data developments are making the platforms even smarter. Personally, I think it’s really cool.

But what is it? There are various formats, but basically it’s an ad embedded into an image. Usually it’s unobtrusive, in the form of a little logo or circle that you click on to see the additional information. Sometimes it’s a banner along the bottom of the picture (probably somewhat annoying, but I suppose it depends, and from the point of view of the advertiser and the publisher, at least it’s noticeable).

example of embedded ecommerce kiosked

(image via

And we’re not just talking about commercial catalogue pictures with embedded text. Even mainstream news sites are applying this technology to their report images.

Imagine, for instance, you’re reading an article about movie stars and you just must have those sunglasses that Brad Pitt is wearing in the accompanying picture. Click on the sunglasses and up pops a little window that allows you to buy them then and there. Or across the bottom of the image, an ad for Brad’s new movie…

(click here to see the animated example – I can’t figure out how to get WordPress to allow me to download the animated image, so all the images I show you here will be static but with links to the real thing, sorry!)

in-image advertising

(image via Gumgum demos and OK!)

Or, you’re checking out your favourite cooking site and the picture you’re looking at has such beautiful serving plates that you just have to have them. One click and you can either order them online, or find out where they are sold. Another click will take you to the recipe for the cocktail in the picture.

Or, you’re reading an article on the peace and beauty of the Amalfi coast. One click on the image and you can book a hotel room, or buy a book on Italy, or get a nice sunhat…

(this is a static example, click here to see the interactive image)

example of embedding links in pictures

 (image via Taggstar)

It sounds clever, doesn’t it? Interactive images and the possibilities for non-commercial uses are also very interesting. One image can contain embedded links to another article, a video, even a survey… And in this inter-connected world in which we live, what about the social uses? A photocall of a corporate conference can contain links to the Twitter accounts of all the people in the photo. Or a photo posted on one of the many wedding social sites can contain links to Facebook profiles, the wedding playlist, who did the dress, even the wedding gift registry… Or, enrich family photos with voices, home movies, favourite songs… Embeds can add so much texture and dimension to a flat image.

The new platforms are opening up a new income stream for media publishers. They’re giving brands a fresh opportunity to get their message across. They’re providing e-commerce sites a smarter form of affiliate marketing. And they allow consumers to enjoy an impulse purchase.

Even more spectacular are the videos with embeds. You can actually click on a video and buy the highlighted product, and it’s done quite subtly, your enjoyment of the video is not really affected. So far it’s been used in branding videos, such as for Barney’s New York and Gucci… I imagine that it’s also possible to buy band merchandise or concert tickets directly from music videos….

videos with ecommerce embeds

(video via

So, while not exactly completely unobtrusive, shoppable images and videos do seem an encouraging step away from the in-your-face ads, pop-ups and pre-videos that we have to put up with (I’ll talk about ad blockers another day!).

But how is it done? There are currently various platforms out there that make it quite easy, each with slightly different priorities:


One of the leaders of the sector is Kiosked, a Finnish company that partners with brands and with content sites to embed commercial links in stock images. Basically, it´s a cross between affiliate marketing and in-house e-commerce. And it’s not just images, text can also be Kiosked. That could be interesting for cooking or DIY sites, and definitely for company blogs… It’s location-sensitive, so the links change according to where you are. And, it’s not very intrusive; you only see the links when you hover over the picture.

example of embedding kiosked

(image via Kiosked)

Kiosked recently signed a deal with Getty Images in which Kiosked e-commerce is overlaid on any image from the huge Getty library. Imagine any photo of the actor Daniel Craig with embedded links to the latest Bond film or to a set of martini glasses. Or being able to buy tennis rackets directly from any image of Rafa Nadal. Every time a sale is made, the publisher gets part of the commission. Their algorithm analyses the image, the content and the context, so that different users get different links, according to their profile.


Thinglink is more creative than Kiosked in that it helps you to create “rich” images, with embedded links to music, social sharing, information, videos, Twitter accounts, Facebook profile, e-commerce, even surveys! One image can contain several links of different types, like the example I made using Thinglink that I showed you earlier in the report. With Thinglink the publisher has creative control, which broadens its use. Thinglink is being increasingly used as an educational tool – imagine doing a report on the Roman Empire by embedding detail and even multimedia in a map of Italy. Businesses pay, but it’s free for individuals.

(click here to see the interactive version of the left image, and here for the image on the right)

example of embedding images with Thinglink

I made this one, just for fun (again, a static image, click here to see my nifty links…)

a thinglink example I made


Very similar to Kiosked, Stipple automatically embeds links in tagged images. For instance, Capitol Records might want links to Katy Perry’s new album or upcoming concerts included in all Katy Perry pictures on affiliated publishers. Or politicians’ embeds could overlay their most recent tweets or posts on their images. Or pictures of Jennifer Garner could have links to her latest movie. And Stipple can also show who designed her jacket and where you can get one.

(not an interactive image, but you can see the interactivity here)

examples of data embedded in media images

 (image via People Magazine)

As with Kiosked and Thinglink, it’s unobtrusive, the links only appear when you hover or tap on the photo, and even then, they’re quite subtle.


The Luminate icon in the corner means that the users can mouse-over to see links to e-commerce, to share the image, to get access to more information…

(the image below is static, click here to see the interactive version)

in-image advertising with Luminate

(image via Luminate)


Taggstar automatically adds a selection of similar products to images in mainstream media, which not only gives users a choice but also increases the possibility of a commission-earning sale for the publishers. For example, if you happen to like the Duchess of Cambridge’s blue dress, here’s a selection for you to choose from:

(not an interactive image, but you can see the interactivity here)

example of embedded e-commerce(image via msn)


Gumgum also have in-image ads, of both the embedded link and the banner type. One thing that they do that I haven’t seen on the others yet is the “take-over” ad, where an ad takes over a photograph for a few seconds before settling into a standard in-image banner. Obtrusive, perhaps, but in my opinion, bearable, and relatively effective.

(not an interactive image, click here for the working example)

example of ad with Gumgum

(image via Gumgum demos and Lovelyish)

* * *

Banner ads are notoriously ineffective and getting cheaper by the day, and if embedded images are more effective on computer-viewed websites, they could only be even more so on mobile platforms, when a large image is often all we see… With this innovative form of affiliate marketing, brands and services get a new way to reach jaded audiences, web publishers can develop a complementary income stream, and the user gets a fresh  e-commerce experience, with almost instant gratification. Will these platforms revolutionise e-commerce? No, but they will broaden its scope significantly. I think that the biggest effect lies in the increasing interactivity of online information. The moving newspapers from the Harry Potter films? Not so far off.

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