Pop-Ups Not Welcome at iVillage

Women’s online media company iVillage Inc. announced yesterday that it is banning pop-up advertising from its network of sites.

The move to ban the small advertising windows that appear over Web pages in separate browsers is based on a survey that showed that 92.5 percent of iVillage users found pop-up advertising to be the most frustrating feature of the Web, according to iVillage.

“The great fallacy of pop-ups is they have high brand awareness,” said Vanessa Benfield, senior vice president of sales, iVillage, New York. “But so does Enron, and you’re not going to go out and buy Enron.”

Pop-ups, which accounted for 6 percent of iVillage’s ad inventory, are scheduled to be off iVillage completely by the end of August, Benfield said.

Meanwhile, the publisher claims to be testing some new undisclosed ad formats to “convert current pop-up ads into stronger, alternate formats to help yield higher results,” according to a statement by the company.

“We are looking at larger and more impactful units that will be good for the user and good for the marketer,” said Benfield. “But the big issue we’re addressing is how you introduce them to the user.”

iVillage is not banning pop-unders, the small ad windows that appear under Web pages, and must be cleaned up at the end of a session.

“Pop-ups were a problem because they were covering up content, whereas a pop-under doesn’t get in the way of something you’re currently doing,” said Benfield. She added that according to iVillage’s research, women are far more task-oriented than men online, and as a result, pop-ups may be more annoying to women.

“They’re [women] going online looking for answers for anything from ‘what am I making for dinner tonight?’ to ‘I’m not feeling well. Am I at risk for heart disease?’ ” said Benfield, adding that men are more often online for entertainment.

While iVillage is banning third party pop-up ads, it still will use pop-up windows for its own research and subscription drives, Benfield said.

“Women don’t mind when it’s tied to research. … It’s that content within context that makes sense,” said Benfield. She also said that iVillages advertisers “overwhelmingly” support the ban.

IVillage’s announcement comes on the heels of a report in USA Today that AOL has cut its pop-up ads by as much as 90 percent. AOL also has revamped its welcome screen to feature rotating news and other information and fewer promotions.

Meanwhile, Benfield said that though she expects gaming sites, for example, to continue to employ pop-up ads, she would not be surprised if other publishers followed iVillage’s lead. “It is definitely is a hot button at all of the conferences I’ve been to,” she said.

However, anyone who thinks pop-ups are going away altogether is probably mistaken, according to Scott Ferber, CEO of Advertising.com, a Baltimore, MD-based pay-for-performance ad brokerage firm.

“Publishers need revenue in this down market, and I think taking away something that works for advertisers is a detriment,” he said. “Right now pop-ups, pop-unders, Intersticials, whatever you want to call that category, are by far the best from a direct response point of view.”

Ferber said pop-ups are generally 10 times as effective at driving response as banners and five to eight times as effective as some of the more recently introduced larger ad formats like skyscrapers.

Ferber said pop-ups can work for the advertiser and the consumer if publishers don’t overdo them. He added that he has not heard of other publishers moving to ban pop-up advertising.

“Everything I’ve heard has been focused on how to do them appropriately, where appropriately has been defined as revenue positive for the publisher, conversion- and transaction-oriented for the publisher, while at the same time not overwhelming the consumer,” said Ferber. Frequency capping, or putting a limit on the number of times a user sees an ad, is an important component of limiting annoyance pop-ups can create, he said.

Pop-ups and pop-unders account for about 30 percent of Advertising.com’s revenue, according to Ferber.

Advertising.com serves 8 billion Web ad impressions per month, and is on track for $65 million in revenue this year, according to Ferber.

The iVillage network claims 31.5 million unique visitors per quarter.

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