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Looks like someone pulled the trigger on the tip a bit too quickly. (Or, considering that it's already the 13th, G's a tad late in rolling this out for this season.)
since we have seen these ads in beta, google has some figures on them. i am sure they help CTR in some instances, otherwise google wouldn't release these for wide release.
You can enable or disable themed ad units on an account-wide basis...
This seems to combine the idea many webmasters have implemented, with Google's approval, of positioning small images (other than arrows/pointers/etc.) next to ad blocks to draw attention (but apparently not undue attention) to the ads. Now Google will add the images for you.
Unfortunately, the theme gimmick would only work on one of my sites, so I would need to control the feature by site or by channel.
What would be interesting to me is if Google implemented a means of selecting from a collection of pre-approved graphics, or having them contextually match graphics to ads, thereby making this a lot more customizable. And, of course, let you control the appearance at least on a site-by-site basis. A computer site could pick a computer theme for the graphics, otherwise blend the ad unit, and Google would present "approved" images in the background.
A few years ago Christmas used to start in late August (yes, I genuinely did see a christmas tree in a shop before the start of September). But starting the decorations 2 weeks before Christmas still seems too early to me.
(PS: I was ROFLMAO at your soda bottle comment in t'other thread. Quality wit, t'was :-))