IAB Proposes Pop-Up Limits

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Amid widespread user dissatisfaction and the spread of pop-up blocking software, the Interactive Advertising Bureau proposed guidelines last week for using pop-up and pop-under ads.


The guidelines, devised by the IAB'as pop-up task force, define pop-ups as "any advertising experience that utilizes a Web-browser initiated additional window to deliver an ad impression either directly above or below the existing browsing experience."


The rules would set a frequency cap of one pop-up ad per user for each Web site visit. The cap would apply to both pop-up and pop-under ads. The guidelines also suggest pop-up ads carry the name of the advertiser and publisher as well as the browser type. The IAB guidelines advise that all ads contain a close box.


Members can submit comments on the proposed guidelines at the IAB's Web site before a final set is released in two months. The guidelines are voluntary.


Pop-up ads, often sold at a cheap rate, quickly became a widespread Internet presence during the prolonged Web advertising downturn. An Advertising.com study in May 2003 found pop-up ads generate a conversion rate 14 times better than a standard banner ad.


However, consumers have tabbed them a top online annoyance. A Planet Feedback study released in April 2003 found that 83 percent of respondents found pop-up ads annoying, rankling them more than spam and door-to-door salesmen.


"This is a short-term move to protect our long term," said Greg Stuart, head of the IAB. "We as an industry can regulate ourselves."


Some Web publishers, such as iVillage and AOL, stopped serving pop-up ads after hearing from irate users. In the meantime, the proliferation of search toolbars from Google, Yahoo and others helped slow the growth of pop-up ads. Microsoft plans to include a pop-up blocker in the next version of its Internet Explorer browser.


"How the industry organization can wait until 2004 to issue pop-up standards is beyond me," said Nate Elliott, an analyst with Jupiter Research. "This has been identified as the most annoying online ad format for years."


Still, top Web sites like Weather.com, ESPN.com and NYTimes.com continue to serve a slew of pop-up ads. According to Nielsen//NetRatings, pop-ups represented 6 percent of Internet ads served in March, up slightly from a 5 percent share a year earlier.


German ad server Falk eSolutions announced April 29 the release of a tool that would let publishers detect when users have pop-up blockers and convert the pop-up ads into other formats, such as floating rich media ads.


The IAB pop-up guidelines do not cover rich media ad units that cover Web pages.


The IAB has issued guidelines in many online advertising areas, including rich media, ad unit sizes and privacy practices. Pop-up guidelines issued by the IAB in the United Kingdom are looser, suggesting that advertisers restrict themselves to three intrusive ads served per 30 minutes a user is on a site. Those guidelines include rich media floating formats.


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