Pop Up Ads: Necessary Evil, or Just Evil?

Adaptability may be the hallmark of the Internet advertising industry. Each time consumers start to tune out one type of online ads, another rises up to take its place. Like primitive amphibians, the Internet ad types continue to evolve based on market conditions and consumer acceptance.

Perhaps the most insidious of these new ad types is the dreaded pop up. Pop ups are the Sheriff Joe Arpaio of the Internet advertising world – annoying but useful.

Given their ubiquity, it would seem as though pop ups were beginning to dominate the Internet advertising scene. Not so. According to Internet research firm NetRatings, pop ups accounted for just 2% of Internet advertising in the first half of 2002. However, that 2% added up to 11.3 billion pop up ads – which equals a lot of muttered cursing.

Based on an admittedly unscientific poll of people I know, a full 100% of Internet users hate pop ups because they are distracting and clutter up the monitor. Squeals from consumers have become so frequent that major Internet sites like AOL, IVillage and Ask Jeeves have stopped accepting pop up ads.

But guess who loves pop ups? The companies that buy them. Because the truth is that pop ups work. Like inserts in the newspaper, pop ups are freestanding ads. You have to at least glance at them in disdain before you close the window. This makes pop ups significantly more noticeable than banners and other online ad types. 49% more noticeable, according to a study by Statistical Research, Inc.

Online travel service Orbitz essentially built their brand from scratch with pop ups (which you no doubt have seen unless you got your first computer for Christmas, given that they ran 687 million of them in the first half of 2002). And who can forget the pervasive X10 spy camera ads that launched the pop up revolution? Nothing like a pop up to make you feel simultaneously annoyed and perverted.

By way of juxtaposition, how many banner ads can you remember as vividly as you do those X10 beauties? Perhaps most tellingly, AOL banned pop ups except for ads for AOL itself and its partners.

But, from an advertiser standpoint you have to assess the built-in consumer backlash against the visibility advantages of pop up advertising. Orbitz tries to blunt the “I hate pop ups, therefore I hate you” mindset by creating clever, interactive pop ups using Flash. Good ads work, regardless of platform, something that most pop up advertisers have yet to realize. It’s as though they figure since they are buying pop ups in bulk, there’s no need to spend any time on a compelling message or good creative. The annoyance is compounded by the boredom.

So, if you’re looking to do some online advertising and want to go “beyond the banner,” the pop up is definitely an option. Several local Web sites carry them, including leaders azcentral.com and azfamily.com. Make sure you craft an attractive, memorable ad and that you test different versions for effectiveness. In addition to pop ups, other non-banner opportunities include “rich media” ads that utilize new technologies (sometimes including audio and video) to sing, dance, spin around, catch on fire or whatever else it takes to draw consumers’ attention online. The catch is that rich media ads are more costly than pop ups. How much more are you willing to pay to make sure fewer people are annoyed by your ads?

The smart play if the budget is available is to buy some traditional banners as a baseline, as well as pop ups and rich media ads. Then, run a test campaign to see which ad type results in a lower cost per action (visit to your site, completion of a lead form, sale, etc.).

As a consumer, the effectiveness of pop up advertising means you’re stuck with it for at least the foreseeable future. The most interesting thing about the pop up ban on AOL, Ivillage, etc. was the utter absence of other sites following suit. So, if you’re apoplectic about the proliferation of pop ups, your best bet is to install blocking software that zaps them before they can pop. It’s like electrolysis for your computer.

As an Internet marketing consultant, I want to know what’s going on in pop up land, so I haven’t used any of these personally. But, Stop-the-Pop and AdFree are the highest-rated freeware pop up killers available at download.com.

While You're here

Get our best tips. Join the smartest marketers who receive our weekly update.

Article Continues

7 Differences in Major Brands' Acceptable vs. Exceptional Email Marketing Programs

Yeah, you’re sending email. But is it email that people WANT or email that people TOLERATE? The difference is critical, and our brand-new, eBook shows how to do it right.