Google has confirmed that they are testing incredibly large banner ads for specific branded queries.
A Google spokesperson confirmed this is a “small experiment” running currently in the U.S. market.
The ad seems to take up the majority of the screen real estate. I assume since it is a very branded query, Google finds this ad to be relevant and they are testing to see the click-through on this ad.
In 2005, Google promised that banner ads would never come to web search, saying:
There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results pages. There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever.
Eight years later, it seems Google may be ready to break that promise.
Update: The team at Synrgy has learned from a source at Google that the “brand image experiment” is live with about 30 advertisers, including Crate & Barrel and Virgin America. The test is showing for less than 5 percent of search queries.
Synrgy also provided access to the HTML page. Despite the gray box surrounding both the banner and the text listing, the ad is comprised of the banner only. The Southwest Airlines text listing and sitelinks below the image are standard organic results. We’ve asked Google for clarification on why the gray box surrounds both paid and organic units as well as cost structure and will update here when we learn more.