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Popping Up Everywhere and Under Everything

  |  July 31, 2001   |  Comments

They have invaded the world through the World Wide Web and are on every site, from Yahoo! to the New York Times to weather.com. Depending on who you are, they either stink of chicanery or have the sweet smell of success.

They have invaded New York. They have invaded Chicago. They have invaded San Francisco. They can be found on seemingly every site, from Yahoo to the New York Times to weather.com. Hell, I think I even ran into one the other night on my way to the kitchen for a glass of water.

No, I'm not talking about ants (we sprayed for those last week). And no, I'm not talking about Dead Heads (we sprayed for those the week before last).

I'm talking about the X10 pop-under creative units that have been running all over the Web for about two months now.

Those who haven't come across them yet are likely not among those reading this article -- because they either do not have a computer or have never been on the Web (or are no longer taking in oxygen).

There has already been a big stink about the X10 pop-unders, for several reasons.

First, there is their annoying ubiquity; as you move across the Web, they tail you like worshipful younger siblings. Unlike them, however, the pop-unders have the charm of the Ebola virus.

Then there's the recent release by Jupiter Media Metrix (JMM) of the top visited sites on the Web. According to the metered data released, X10.com ranked as the fourth most-visited site on the Web in June 2001. So far, people in the industry, except those using these methods of advertising to their advantage, think that this is a disingenuous expression of data, gathered in a way that, frankly, was not designed to deal with chicanery and questionable methods.

The JMM site says this: "As an objective, third-party measurement company, Jupiter Media Metrix has a responsibility to include and report exposures to all legitimate Web pages regardless of their content, business purpose, or method of acquiring viewers." This is like the auto industry saying (in the days before it was mandatory for manufacturers to include seat belts) that folks flying through the windshield in an accident are just a function of the way the car is made.

Still, all of this is to say that, as it turns out, this has been a successful direct-response marketing effort. It is really an argument for using pop-ups that push an advertiser's page at a user as a creative asset.

This is how it works. X10 pushes its sales page to an individual as part of the ad unit it runs. As a visitor, I go to a particular site, and I get X10's actual Web presence served to me within the parameters of a daughter window. A metering service such as JMM actually counts that page served as a visit. One of the interesting bits of data to come from JMM, and which Declan Dunn pointed out in his piece last week, is that according to JMM, the session length monitored for a percentage of those exposed to the X10 pop-up kept that page open for three minutes or longer.

What that really means is difficult to know, considering that we are talking about a pushed page. Since it is a pop-under, some users may not notice it there for several minutes or more. Maybe someone went to a page that served the pop-under, closed the browser, and then left the computer for a while, not realizing the X10 pop-under was still open. It is hard to know. The more important metric here is the 4.2 percent sell-through reported for those who did have session lengths of three minutes or longer.

Of course, all of this data is a bit brittle, particularly because it is out of the context of the rest of X10's efforts and is based on metered data that comes with its own bag of caveats.

Something to note is that the tactic being used by X10, and now other aggressive direct-response advertisers such as NextCard, has been used by online pornography purveyors for years. And porn, after all, is still the most profitable industry on the Web.

We should also keep in mind that the net results of the X10 effort, if reported correctly, are also tied to the price-item nature of the value proposition and the product that proposition serves to represent. The pop-under for the X10 is almost like a free-standing insert (FSI), and that FSI addresses a specific product that can be held in one's hand and doesn't cost a lot of money. The use of this tactic may not yield the same results for a product that requires a higher level of consideration or for a service that is not tangible.

The use of pop-unders is quickly becoming popular with advertisers, who are in a constant struggle to find new ways of attracting and keeping consumer attention. I do think it is a good idea to take advantage of the exceptional results that can likely be yielded by running this kind of creative asset while it is still benefiting from the intersection of high levels of intrusiveness and novelty. But be warned: Who will love you when only the irritated are left?

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Jim Meskauskas Jim Meskauskas has had a long career in both traditional and interactive media. He was most recently the Chief Internet Strategist at Mediasmith Inc., where he worked with a range of clients -- from BabyCenter and CBS MarketWatch to Eidos Interactive, Roxio, and LuckySurf. He has also been in media at Hawk Media, Left Field, and USWeb/CKS. He is a founding board member of the Society for Internet Advancement San Francisco, where he oversaw communications. Jim is now developing an independent media consultancy called Media Darwin.

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