Are ROS Banners the Next Pop-Ups?

An endless amount of press lately has been about Internet properties adopting stricter advertising guidelines. It started with Google reaffirming its condemnation of pop-up ads and snowballed when iVillage nixed pop-up advertising from its network of sites, with the exception of a few in-house ads, in August of this year. America Online Inc. was among the next to act, announcing it was retiring third-party pop-ups in conjunction with the release of the new AOL 8.0 Web software. Like iVillage and Google, AOL cited negative consumer feedback toward the format (along with an overall adoption of “higher standards”) as a driving force behind the decision.

Where Web properties were once willing to accept most every ad placement and bend nearly every rule to satisfy advertisers and capture those coveted marketing dollars. Now they are starting to run a much tighter ship — and not just when it comes to pop-up advertising. The latest Web property to amend its ad offerings is Ask Jeeves Inc., which has not only dropped pop-ups but has also removed all run-of-site (ROS) banners from

Now there’s some really press-worthy news. Aside from some attention at the very beginning, when advertising on the Internet first started to take off, banner ads have always done a pretty good job of flying below the radar. They’re rarely cited as an annoyance among Internet users, mainly because they’re so inconspicuous when compared with new players on the scene, such as pop-up and rich media ads. When they do attract attention, the chatter is usually directed toward the technology behind certain “upgraded” versions of the format — those of the Point·Roll variety, for example — and rarely touches upon where within a site those ads actually appear.

So what’s causing a Web publisher like Ask Jeeves to crack down on this unlikely suspect? According to Alexa Rudin, the company’s director of communications, the decision to cut out ROS banners in addition to pop-ups was made “in an effort to improve our user experience.” She says the company wanted to provide “a more targeted advertising environment,” the kind these placements just aren’t conducive to creating. Instead of offering advertisers untargeted ROS advertising, the search site will now be pushing its more targeted placements, such as Branded Response, a unique search-driven ad unit that’s integrated into the user’s search result page.

Normally the reduction of available advertising options, especially staple placements such as this one, would prompt anxiety in media buyers. In this case, the transition is positive. ROS banner advertising has long been a concern of publishers and advertisers alike, triggering a love/hate relationship of sorts. Though the existence of this placement type allows publishers to sell off remnant inventory, its untargeted nature forces them to accept lower ad rates. And though advertisers may be drawn to these low rates, they struggle with the knowledge that delivering an ad message that may be irrelevant to the majority of users can result in a negative perception of their brands.

That ROS and pop-up advertising are being eliminated in the same breath shouldn’t come as a surprise. The two forms of advertising actually have a lot in common and even share some of the same risks. Both ROS banners and pop-ups (which are routinely employed to reach a general, untargeted audience) can offer widespread audience coverage at a reduced price. And both are routinely ignored by media buyers who are looking for ways to get directly in front of their target audiences without wasted (and potentially damaging) impressions.

Clearly, a growing number of publishers are taking a second look at whether offering pop-up advertising on their sites is worth potentially alienating their users. Does this mean ROS advertising is also in danger of slowly being expunged? As the online advertising industry continues to grow and our ability to effectively target our desired audiences improves, less-targeted forms of advertising will inevitably become obsolete. There may still be a demand for cheap, mass-market advertising — I certainly haven’t noticed a drop in the number of irrelevant pop-up ads I’m seeing — but for publishers concerned with placating their audiences, the pay off just isn’t worthwhile. Replacing untargeted placements with more relevant ones is not only satisfies the consumer’s desire for more relevant advertising but also encourages better campaign results. And that’s sure to please most any advertiser.

Ask Jeeves may be one of the first Web properties to embrace an advertising model that omits ROS advertising, but it certainly won’t be the last. I doubt if these placements will be missed.

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