[Posted by Steven Noble]

Chrome — the new web browser from Google — has generated online buzz for all sorts of reasons, but there has been almost no talk about its impact on contextual advertising.

To me, it’s clear: Chrome is part of Google’s plan to allow us to buy ads within almost any electronic application or media.

Today, many of the applications we use are ad-free zones. For example, most word processors and video editors are free of advertising. The same is true of the on-screen applications that we use to control most consumer electronics devices.

Web applications are different. For a start, we access them through a web browser — think of Hotmail or Gmail, for example. This means that the owners of web applications can provide contextual advertising. For example, anything labelled "sponsored links" in this Gmail screenshot is an ad.

Advertising in Gmail, viewed through Chrome

Use of web applications is on the rise, and Chrome will accelerate the trend. To see why, download a copy of Chrome yourself (Windows only at this stage), and point it at a web application like Google Reader. I found it incredible how quickly it handled tasks like scrolling through my news feeds.

Then, read the comic that Google commissioned to launch Chrome. You’ll see why Google believes Chrome is not just a faster way to use web application, but also a more reliable one.

Now, return to viewing your web app in Chrome, and select "Create application shortcuts" from the Page menu. Chrome will create a simple, clean, stand-alone version of your web application that you can access like any desktop software. The screenshot above is an example of what you get.

Note: I’m not suggesting Chrome will snatch massive marketshare from Internet Explorer overnight. There are countless reasons why most users stick with the browser they know. Even for a Chrome fan like me, access to my favourite plug-ins will keep me using Firefox for some time yet.

However, by providing a much better experience with web applications, Chrome will encourage more people than ever to use them. Meanwhile, competition from Chrome will encourage Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla to improve their rival browsers. Indeed, the Mozilla team is already trialling some nifty (and quite unrelated) step-changes in how we use Firefox to access web applications. As all browsers improve, more and more people will gradually be drawn towards using web applications.

And that will provide more opportunities than ever for companies like Microsoft and Google to sell contextual advertising.

So, what’s the takeaway for interactive marketers? For me, this signals a subtle shift in the potential role of contextual advertising in the sales and marketing process.

Today, contextual ads are powerful because they appear when internet users are either searching for a topic or reading about it. Plug "ironing press" into Google and you’ll see search ads based on that term. Click through to an online magazine that reviews ironing presses, and you’ll probably see contextual ads there too.

In the future, contextual ads will be available even when the consumer is not searching for information. Write a letter about your whiplash in a future online word processor, and there’s no reason a personal injury lawyer couldn’t show you their ad. Watch the 2005 AFL Grand Final repeatedly on a future web-based personal video recorder, and there’s no reason why Rebel Sport couldn’t pitch you its Sydney Swans merchandise. Plan a long journey using a future web-based in-car navigation system, and there’s no reason the Road Traffic Authority couldn’t remind you of the dangers of fatigue.

Furthermore, there’s no reason future ads could not "talk back" to web applications — helping you plan rest stops in your long journey, for example.

All this has been tried before on "heavy" platforms like interactive TV, but nothing beats a simple web application mashup for fast and low-cost efficiency. This will be the breakthrough.

The end game will be a situation in which the interactive marketer can offer the user what they need before they realise they need it. To win in this world, interactive marketers will have to become anthropologists, completely immersed in how their customers live their lives.