RealTime IT News

No Consensus on Future of Pop-Ups

NEW YORK -- Web publishers admit the current torrent of pop-up advertisements bother many Internet users, but few agree on how to solve the problem.

In what was billed as a town hall meeting, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) on Wednesday invited the online advertising industry to weigh in on whether pop-up standards were needed to improve the industry's reputation.

The IAB's director of industry initiatives, Adam Gelles, described the meeting as the first step toward standards for pop-ups, which could include requirements such as the mandatory labeling of pop-up and pop-under ads served by sites, or the adoption of uniform frequency caps.

Nielsen//NetRatings analyst Marc Ryan confirmed that consumers are irritated by the ads, citing a recent PlanetFeedback survey that found 90 percent of respondents "very annoyed" by pop-up ads. In July, Nielsen//NetRatings reported Web publishers served 7.3 billion pop-up ad impressions. Many publishers have taken note of consumer distaste for the ad unit.

"They just hate them," said Greg Mason, executive vice president of media sales at CNET Networks. "It's as simple as that."

Peter Naylor, vice president and general manager of sales at iVillage, seconded Mason. In July 2002, iVillage repudiated pop-up ads after a survey found 92.5 percent of its users saying pop-up ads were the most frustrating part of their experience on the site.

Unilever interactive marketing manager Ed Kim suggested a simple solution to IAB publishers: ban them.

The catch, of course, is that pop-ups have proven quite effective for many publishers, including marquee names like New York Times Digital and washingtonpost.com. Doug McFarland, Advertising.com executive vice president and general manager of publisher services, cited a survey the company did in May that found pop-up ads had a click-through rate 13 times higher than regular banner ads.

"You continue to do it because they are effective ad units for some advertisers," he said, comparing the unit to business reply cards (BRCs) in magazines.

One potential solution posited was the introduction of IAB guidelines for the frequency of pop-up ads. In the United Kingdom, that country's IAB next week will roll out frequency guidelines for various forms of intrusive advertising, according to IAB UK CEO Danny Meadows-Klue. He admitted the frequency caps are quite lax: three intrusive ads for every 30 minutes a user is on a site. The IAB UK will include not just pop-up and pop-under ads in the guidelines but also intrusive rich media units.

However, even Naylor cautioned that standards and frequency caps were unlikely to solve the pop-up problem, since sites outside the IAB, as well as adware companies, would continue to serve untargeted and uncapped pop-ups.

Ryan said fed-up consumers were already taking matters into their own hands. By Nielsen//NetRatings' estimation, as much as a quarter of all Internet users are currently using some time of pop-up blocking software. With the release of pop-up blockers in various Internet browser toolbars, in addition to on Internet services like AOL and EarthLink, the number of blocked pop-up ads is bound to increase.