Web 2.0 Metaphor: Widgets and Flyers

July 18th, 2007 | Categories: blogs, marketing, networks, off topic, social media, strategy, trends, widgets

After taking a look at widget marketing, widget fever, and the monetization of widgets, I have come to one conclusion: widgets are NOT a business model. They are a marketing tool. There needs to be an underlying product or service behind all of this embedding. This made me wonder, “What are widgets comparable to in the offline world? What’s a good metaphor for the world of widgets?” Then it hit me - flyers.

Flyer Analysis

Flyers are created by a given store, then distributed to potential customers. The flyers themselves are worthless. They are a tool to entice customers into the store. Only at that point can revenues be generated.

Flyers can easily be moved from one location to another. They can also be easily disposed of. Furthermore, their very presence can catalyze word-of-mouth marketing and provide much needed brand exposure.

Widget Analysis

The widget world works much in the same way as flyers. A given widget is fabricated by a company with the intention of widespread distribution on the Internet. This embedded marvel provides value to the destination site, but can easily be removed if the publisher so desires. The widget itself is relatively useless to the company when it comes to revenue generation. Widgets are meant to drive traffic back to the parent property, which can then monetize the user via advertising or a subscription model, perhaps. Finally, as is the case with flyers, widgets can also create general brand exposure and awareness.

Obviously this isn’t the perfect metaphor - the biggest difference being that flyers cost money to print and distribute, while widgets cost nothing other than the cost of human labour. Having said that, I still think the metaphor helps to provide clarity when thinking about the purpose of widgets. It is also a great way to explain widgets to a non-techie or Internet user with little knowledge of web 2.0 world.


  1. Mikael Pittam Says:

    Facebook has flyers on their network page. For those who have not killed the ads via GreaseMonkey, you can see the occasional flyer on the left sidebar.

    Also, there is http://www.vflyer.com/ a combination of flyer + widget.

    Anyone try it?

  2. Els Says:

    The analogy with flyers only works from the company’s point of view though - not from the user’s: widgets are gadgets - people *want* to have them, as they are tools to the user, not only to the company. I can’t remember the last time I wanted a flyer though - there’s nothing I can do with them.

    Instead of flyers, I think I would have chosen marketing gadgets like logo pens, calendars, keyrings, or other ‘toys’ with the company name on them.

  3. Aidan Says:

    Hey Els,

    Well put. Perhaps pens, calendars, and/or keyrings may be a better comparison. I think I chose flyers because of the extremely low price point and pure marketing value. Nevertheless, point well taken :)


  4. ia Says:

    I agree with Els. That’s from a marketing perspective. Widgets are a lot more useful than flyers; they’re (usually) single purpose gadgets, just like alarm clocks, calendars, sticky notes, thermometers, and so on. :)

  5. Jeremy Says:

    a major issue i see with this metaphor is in the amount of information that can be collected from a flyer campaign vs. a widget campaign.

    Flyers do not provide any valuable customer demographic data. Whereas widgets, have the potential to precisely track things like location, age range (depending on where the widget is hosted), frequency of interaction, etc… A major difference from a marketing perspective.

    Aside from that, i agree with the other comments. there are various types of widgets (widgets as ads (nike custom sneaker widget), ads within widget tools (i.e sportscores and visa/mastercard ad), ecommerce widgets (amazon/ebay/affiliates…), all with distinct characteristics and business value.

    to lump all widgets together and compare them to flyers is simply wrong.

Leave a Comment