They've actually been displaying business icons embedded in maps in Japan for quite a few years. However, I'm not sure that those were necessarily sponsor ads. I have a screencap of it, for anyone who'd like to see.
10:07 pm on Mar 18, 2010 (gmt 0)
I can see ATM bank and hi-fi store icons in downtown Melbourne but they look like sample droppings on the map and are not comprehensive. If they had 100% coverage then the map would be unreadable.
I seem to recall seeing much bigger logos in Google Maps - possibly a US trial - but I can't find the reference now.
7:12 am on Mar 19, 2010 (gmt 0)
They've actually been displaying business icons embedded in maps in Japan for quite a few years.
In Japan you need to navigate by landmark as there are often no street names posted. Those icons in Japan are there for convenience. I haven't heard of companies paying for them.
9:15 pm on Mar 22, 2010 (gmt 0)
bill, that makes a lot of sense - in such dense areas, particularly with poor street signage, I could easily see familiar businesses used as orientation landmarks.
Still, I think the programming to overlay all those landmark icons was likely something of a precursor to the beta-test advertising product.