The Evolution of the Pop-Under Ad

I write to you from Customer Experience 2007 in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I just finished a presentation about personalization. In booking my trip here, I found a new twist on the traditional pop-under ad that I thought was much more effective.

Like a reality TV show that features people performing scary tasks, I’ll start with the warning: don’t try this at home. The reason is simple: I hate pop-under ads. Absolutely, unequivocally hate them. If someone wants to send me a business case that shows they’re effective, I’d love to see it. But regardless of the business impact, I believe the brand impact is negative.

In the Beginning

For those unaware, the pop-under ad is the window a Web site strategically places under its main browser window. When you close the browser, the site has one more chance to interact with you. Pop-under windows are incredibly annoying and usually have no merit whatsoever. The site’s brand feels like a houseguest who overstays her welcome.

Moreover, these pop-unders started about seven or eight years ago and took two different approaches. Companies like X10 became infamous for their spam-like pop-under ads on random sites. Other companies used these windows as last-ditch efforts to quiz site visitors about why they were leaving. Literally, they’d say: “You’re leaving. Tell us why!”

This type of pop-under reminds me of the exit interview from your last job. You know, the one in which the head of HR asks you what the company could be doing better and why you’re leaving. Let’s be honest. If the company really cared, they would have asked you before your last day.

Now, the Evolution

Travelocity is a company I really like and previously discussed how great its trigger-based e-mail marketing campaigns are. Travelocity is smart and user-centric yet deploys offensive pop-under ads. I have to assume it’s done a business analysis and it makes sense for them.

When planning this trip to Copenhagen, I experienced a new version of Travelocity’s pop-under ad. It was targeted and personalized and got me to stop and take notice. This type of pop-under ad is helpful and has the potential of working a lot better than earlier versions.

It works like this: If the system doesn’t know anything about my purpose for visiting the site, the pop-under remains the same, spam-like ad for lastminute.com. But if I search for flights, the system gets smarter. Instead of the spam-like general ad, I obtain a personalized pop-under that shows me the best price for the trip and one last chance to view the trip’s details before I go. Because this pop-under was personalized, I definitely noticed it a lot more than the generic version. Did it make me book the itinerary? No, it didn’t. How effective is this strategy? I have no idea. If someone from Travelocity reads this, I’d love to hear from you and write a case study on this, if it really is effective.

What Does This Mean for You?

Do I advocate creating pop-under ads? Definitely not. But, if you are using them, it’s time to make them personalized and targeted based on what the user is doing on the site. It’s not enough to personalize a visitor based on past history or past purchases. These ads must to speak to the user about the current need: what the user was just doing.

If you do that, the ads become slightly less annoying and potentially even revenue-generating.

Thoughts, comments, questions? Let me know.

Until next time…

Jack

Related reading

Report: millennials are more likely to share an ad (but also to mute it)
A graph showing a small pile of money at one end and a larger pile at the other, with an ascending line connecting the two.
hp
A cartoon depicting web analytics. It shows a bubble with the letters WWW in it, surrounded by "click! click!". An arrow leads from the bubble to a notepad with graphs and charts on it. Another arrow leads to a chart on a piece of paper, with a lightbulb next to it, which leads on to a spanner with the words "tweak! tweak!" next to it. In the bottom left corner is a box with four bullet points in it: gather, report, analyse and optimise.