Popular Pop-Ups?

Orbitz, the No. 2 pop-under advertiser on the Internet, has begun rolling out ads that invite users to make reindeer talk, putt golf balls and kick field goals; and many of these pop-unders possess a unique trait — they take people to the Orbitz site without even requiring a click-through.

The new holiday-themed ads feature things like a “peg the punk” snowball game and four talking reindeer. In some ads, the user is brought to the Orbitz site through a traditional click, but, in some, a user is brought to the site after simply interacting with the ad, such as making the reindeer say “Orbitz.”

Although advertisers have long been experimenting with formats that encourage user interaction, people were usually not transported to the advertisers’ sites unless they affirmatively clicked-through. Because these Orbitz ads require only a mouseover, they effectively create a new metric: the mouse-through.

Geoff Silver, director of e-marketing at Orbitz, said the Chicago-based company began dabbling in the format, which uses Flash technology, at the end of the summer. The first ad that ran invited users to “pluck the chicken.”

“We try to figure out ways to make it a little more amusing,” Silver said. “If we can get people to laugh, there’s a better chance we can get them to interact.”

He said the response rate for the ads has been strong.

The ads were designed by Otherwise, an interactive agency in Chicago, which has produced a number of Orbitz ads designed to improve effectiveness. In some ads, the user is invited to “sink the putt and save” or “kick the field goal and save.”

The Orbitz pop-under ad does not take users from the Web site they’re currently visiting, but brings up the Orbitz site in the pop-under window.

Silver admitted that not every user will want to play with pop-unders, but he stressed that the company instructs users how to download pop-up-blocking software if they complain about Orbitz ads.

“It’s just like telemarketing,” he said. “There’s always a small percent of the population that want to opt-out.”

The Orbitz move to more interactive pop-unders come as some have questioned the shelf life for pop-under ads, which rose in 18 months to become the Web’s most talked-about ad format. While many users complain about them, advertisers like Orbitz and X10.com have continued serving millions of impressions a month on such top-line publishers like ESPN.com, Yahoo! and washingtonpost.com.

The ubiquity of pop-unders, and their cousin format pop-ups, has brought a backlash from a handful of publishers, with iVillage announcing in August that it would cease to serve them. More importantly, a growing number of Internet service providers, from AOL to EarthLink, have taken varying degrees of anti-pop-up stands, with EarthLink offering software to ban them altogether and AOL only serving pop-ups for AOL Time Warner properties.

According to Nielsen//NetRatings, 11.3 billion pop-up advertisements were served in the first seven months of the year, accounting for just 2 percent of total online ad inventory but raising the ire of many Web users.

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