As Pop-Ups Annoy, Online Ad Industry Seeks Remedies

NEW YORK — Executives at the @d:tech New York conference yesterday agreed that the proliferation of pop-up ads posed a problem for the Internet advertising industry and that measures are needed to regulate their use.

“Consumers have a very dramatic response to pop-ups,” said Rich Lefurgy, president of Archer Advisors. “People are very galvanized.”

Though more than 90 percent of consumers in an Intelliseek survey said they were “very annoyed” by pop-ups, some advertisers stick by the oft-maligned ad format.

According to an study in May, pop-up ads generate a conversion rate 14 times better than a standard banner ad. Pop-ups represented 7 percent of all online ad impressions in September, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

To address the problem, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has put together a committee to look at developing industry guidelines for deploying pop-up ads. Lefurgy, the leader of the committee, said pop-ups are an effective interruptive ad that has value. However, they have been abused.

“We have to be responsible as an industry to ensure its future,” he said.

Lefurgy expects the IAB will issue guidelines for publishers in the next six months. Initially, the guidelines will specify how many pop-up ads a site should serve to a user during a single visit. Eventually, he said, the guidelines would encompass how many pop-ups a user should receive in an entire session, across sites. Lefurgy said the IAB would try to get adware makers like WhenU and Claria to participate.

“We have to moderate the number of pop-up and pop-under ads so consumers don't become turned off to the medium,” he said.

Geoff Silver, director of e-marketing at Orbitz, a leading user of pop-under ads, said engaging content and frequency caps can make pop-ups effective and even popular. Orbitz has frequency caps of one ad per user per site. Still, he acknowledged that some sites served too many of such ads during visits.

“We do realize there is an issue,” he said.

Avi Naider, chief executive of WhenU, said that good, relevant pop-up ads too often were lumped with untargeted ones. WhenU serves contextual pop-ups, among other ads, based on a user's Internet behavior.

“Not all pop-ups are created equal,” Naider said. “There's a wide spectrum of what can be a pop-up on the Internet.”

He suggested that guidelines include a mandatory labeling of pop-up ads so users know which site served them. If users receive too many from a site, they are free to stop visiting.

Silver made no apologies for Orbitz's role as a leading server of pop-under ads. He said the company's move to include interactive games in its ads made them extremely popular, so much so that some users spend up to a half-hour a day playing the mini-games, and Orbitz has even set up a Web site.

“If this is such a negative thing, why are people spending so much time with our ads?” he said.

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