IAB Issues Pop-Up Guidelines

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) issued proposed guidelines for the use of pop-up advertising, including definitions and specifications, just as the ad format teeters on the verge of extinction.

The IAB guidelines say each user should be exposed to no more than one pop-up ad for each visit to a site, the guidelines say. They define pop-ups as any ad using a Web-browser-initiated additional window “to deliver an ad impression either directly above or below the existing browser experience.” The guidelines also provide specifications for pop-unders, pop-ups and large pop-ups.

The guidelines may turn out to be superfluous, as pop-up ads could well be a dying format. More and more consumers are using pop-up blockers such as those offered through the Google and Yahoo toolbars. Forrester Research estimated in late 2003 that 15 percent of Internet users had installed pop-up blockers, and some ad serving companies estimate that as many as 30 percent of pop-ups are blocked. Microsoft’s latest Windows service pack update may deliver the final blow. It includes a pop-up blocker whose default setting will be “on,” and is slated for release in the coming months.

“It’s unclear” as to whether the standards will be needed after the Microsoft update is released, according to Greg Stuart, CEO of the IAB.

“When we saw the growth of pop-up blockers this encouraged us to provide regulatory guidance around pop-ups,” Stuart said. “The blockers do not block all pop-ups. That’s a big issue.”

The IAB’s counterpart in the United Kingdom rolled out frequency guidelines for various forms of intrusive advertising, including pop-ups, in September 2003. The frequency is limited to three intrusive ads for every 30 minutes a user is on a site. The guidelines proposed by the IAB in the U.S. are stricter: Each user should be exposed to no more than one pop-up ad for each visit to a site.

The guidelines also suggest that the ads be labeled with the name of the network, advertiser, publisher and browser type. The guidelines apply to pop-unders, pop-ups and large pop-ups. The proposed rules suggest that ads provide controls for users to turn audio and motion on in pop-up ads. Also, the guidelines suggest that users be able to close the box.

Pop-unders should be 720 pixels wide by 300 pixels high, pop-ups 250 by 250 pixels or 300 by 250 pixels, and large pop-ups 550 by 480 pixels. File weights are also specified.

The unit sizes and file weights specified are typical of those already in use by the industry, an analyst said.

“IAB standards have a tendency to follow industry de facto standards. This [the guidelines] is like saying what size a bumper sticker should be,” said Gary Stein, an analyst for Jupiter Research, the parent of this publication.

The IAB’s Stuart said the guidelines are intended to protect both the advertiser and the user.

“We’ve all got the same interest. We’re all trying to make the Internet safe for online advertising. Anything we can do to make sure we protect that as an advertising medium is in our members’ interests,” said Stuart.

The IAB guidelines, which will be voluntary, are not yet final. The IAB will post them on its site and seek comments from advertising agencies, marketers, online publishers, technology vendors and other industry players. After a two-month comment period and a review of the feedback, the guidelines become final.

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