CAPTCHA Advertising and Error Message Marketing: Obtrusive or Creative?

I just realized something: the digital world is becoming more and more streamlined every day. It’s no longer just the discombobulated mish-mash of banner advertisements and “hey-look-at-this” pop-ups that it used to be. It’s getting more personal and more direct—the ads are, anyway.

We’re approaching a new frontier of creative advertisements, videos, and online services. Ads are starting to seem less obtrusive and more palatable. Sure, we still have to put up with the consistently annoying pop-ups and banners that have dominated the landscape for over a decade and a half, but variations to this approach are beginning to surface—and I say that they’re more than welcome to join the race for consumer attention.

I read an article recently that examined some of the emerging trends in digital advertising. The article—available at Mashable—outlined several new and interesting ad types: everything from the humorous Old Spice videos to the social gaming advertising now taking place across mobile apps like Foursquare. There were, however, a couple of particularly notable standouts that are worth taking a closer look at, if only out of appreciation for their originality.

CAPTCHA Advertisements

CAPTCHA Advertisements

Apparently, ads are starting to show up in some very interesting places on the net—in CAPTCHA tests, for example. You know the tests I’m talking about. They pop up from time to time when you’re attempting to log on to a site whose server needs you to prove that you’re human and not a piece of software. You’re shown one or two distorted words inside a small box on your screen and asked to physically type the words out. This is typically done for security purposes, and although having to complete several of these tests in a given day can be tedious, it’s now generally accepted as being part of the modern browsing experience.

Well, the good folks at Solve Media have crafted an online ad service for companies that wish to turn CAPTCHA to their advantage, promotionally speaking. Through the service, companies can purchase the right to have their brand name or slogan used as the actual typed portion of a CAPTCHA test, according to the article—click here for a brief video description of Solve Media’s method.

Error Message Advertising

Error Message Advertising

Error messages also happen to be one of the more frequent and bothersome roadblocks on the information superhighway these days. And guess what: they’ve become ad space too! Yes, companies are now starting to pay for the right to run their ads on error message pages. refers to this trend as “404 Marketing.”

Burger King actually tried it out earlier this year. They entered a deal with Digg to run ads on the news website’s error pages. Whenever users would type in invalid search terms, the resulting error pages displayed a custom message from the fast food chain: “Looks like your search had a typo. Blame it on your tiny hands. The beefy $1 Burger King Double Cheeseburger gives tiny hands some trouble, too.” A hyperlink to the restaurant’s Tiny Hands commercial was included on the pages as well.

Of course every company and advertising agency wants a campaign to go “viral,” but guess what—there are other ways to approach requisite brand expansion. Think outside the box. Catch folks offguard. Be different—it works.

Are there any other online ad innovations you’ve heard of lately? Do you have any creative ideas for digital ads in the near future?

Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.


  1. JPO

    I’m not sure I would be very receptive to an ad on something that is inherently annoying. If my dentist said “This root canal is brought to you buy Crest,” There’s a good chance I’m saying “F— Crest!” for a while.

    • Jill Tooley

      Haha, good point J-Po. I would laugh my ass off if my dentist said that to me! And I could totally picture you saying “F— Crest!” and running out of there. 🙂

      • JPorretto

        That’s probably exactly what would happen.

        For serious though, unexpected ads do nothing but anger me. There were a bunch of unexpected ads in this years Madden game, and there was a huge community backlash. If there’s more and more ads in everything, shouldn’t everything cost less since the revenue is coming from somewhere else? There’s absolutely no upside to the consumer. Only annoyance. [End Rant]

      • Joseph Giorgi

        The fact that games are incorporating advertising definitely lessens their credibility to an extent. It makes sense in sports games, I suppose, but not in other genres. But yeah, you would think that they’d be cheaper as a result.

    • Bret Bonnet

      JPO; I thought you’d appreciate the Burger King commercial; tiny hands and all! 🙂

  2. Jill Tooley

    I’ll admit that CAPTCHA / error message marketing is clever, but I find it really obnoxious. I feel like I can’t go anywhere or do anything without being bombarded with advertisements. I mean, what’s next? Are companies going to start going old-school and incorporating subliminal messages into their ads? Usually, unexpected advertising like this doesn’t make me want to buy anything…it just pisses me off!

    I suppose there’s nothing I can do about the CAPTCHA ads because you pretty much have to type the text if you want to proceed. But I have a feeling that the error message ads would get “X”ed out most of the time, thus rendering them ineffective.

    I hadn’t seen that BK commercial prior to reading this, but it’s kind of funny. I liked it a lot more because the Burger King wasn’t in it – that thing is TERRIFYING. It catches me off-guard alright…in my NIGHTMARES!

    Spectacular post! Keep ’em coming! 🙂

    • JJ "Suite G"


      And yeah, error-message ads would probably get “x”ed in a heartbeat by most people, but they’re still an innovative alternative. And just think: if they catch on in the near future, we’ll probably see them on a pretty frequent basis, and they’ll inevitably become somewhat subliminal. I mean, even if we constantly click away from them, our eyes will still be glancing over them before we do. If we’re bombarded enough, the ads might start to have at least some effect.

  3. Stantz

    It’ll soon be like on Futurama and we’ll have advertisements in our dreams! It’s coming!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      That would be equal parts annoying and amazing–depending on the ad!

      • GBDUDE

        That would be awesome! Ha

    • Cybernetic SAM

      Anyone read “The Giver”? “1984”? perhaps you should. The giver is almost based off this, basically a run by corporations and advertisments. eerily relevent….

  4. Juliette

    I’m not sure how effective those CAPTCHA ads would be with people like me. I’m usually so focused on typing in each letter correctly that I don’t even pay attention to (or remember) the word later.

    Error message, at least the pop up kind, usually have me bringing up task manager and killing my browser. They are too often virus carriers. Now ads on web pages such as a 404 error page might be either annoying, ignored or smiled at (like the Burger King one). I’m usually a fan of amusing wording on such pages. So those kinds I don’t mind as much.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I’m surprised error-message ads haven’t taken off yet. I’m sure we’ll see more of them in 2011 though. In fact, we’ll probably see ads popping up in very unexpected places in the near future. But as long as the promotional methods remain innovative, I’m all for it.

  5. Bret Bonnet

    I think in CAPTCHA advertising is pure genius and I think it’s the best thing to happen to the world since the invention of the “Clapper” (clap on, clap off, the CLAPPER!).

    I understand why websites use captchas, but sometimes they are to sensitive or impossible to decipher. OK, so the captcha is two words, 10 characters long total… If I get 9 out of the 10 right; let me pass! Seriously!

    There have been many times where I’ve tried ordering Tickets online from TicketMaster (“MONOPOLY” [COUGH], [COUGH]), and it’s seriously taken my 20 attempts before I get it right. Oh that sideways looking character that looks like a 1 but could also be a “7”, the letter “L” or “I”… how am I supposed to know what it is?

    I often use the audio play back option instead of wasting my time trying to decipher the gibberish often found in most captchas these days.

    Moral of the story – captaches make me feel stupid, Bret doesn’t like to feel stupid, and anything that makes these both easier to decipher (that IE add is a NO BRAINER) an also makes the website some extra coin gets TO THUMBS UP FROM ME! 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi

      CAPTCHA ads are definitely a triple-win. The website benefits from the revenue, the advertiser is able to better promote their product/service, and the end-user has an easier and more enjoyable time with the CAPTCHA.

  6. LK

    I like the CAPTCHA idea with advertising.. its clever. And I completely agree with Bret, I HATE when I get the decoding wrong! If the word actually looks like its supposed to say a something like “kraft” or “snickers” I would probably be more likely to get it right.
    I would feel the error message advertising would only make me associate negative feelings with the company because I would be mad I was getting an error, but if you do it right, I guess it could work!

  7. Razibul Hassan

    Thank you very much for an exceptional and helpful article. There should be a standardization for the style of the CAPTCHA. Though CAPTCHA are intended to identify human from the machines or bots, Sometimes those are really obscure to read and this really irritates the human user.

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